The for-credit MOOC comes with a fee.

Massive open online courses (MOOC) that include nominal costs don’t constitute a financial burden to online students, though the mere inclusion of fees undermines a key tenant of MOOCs, educators say.

The idea of world-class educational content available to anyone in the world with an internet connection and a willingness to learn was a central appeal to those interested in MOOCs over the past couple years.

With more MOOCs requiring students to purchase some pricey class materials – such as textbooks – skeptics of MOOC platforms have raised concerns about the future of supposedly “open” web-based college courses.

The latest criticism came after Altius Education, in partnership with Tiffin University, announced a for-credit MOOC that will be headed by a fulltime university faculty member. Altius’s MOOC, made available through the online platform Helix, comes with a $50 administrative fee.

(Update: Altius said in a June 19 announcement that the MOOC has been “postponed until further notice due to concerns over accreditation.” No further detail was provided)

Robert Schuwer, a faculty member at Open University in the Netherlands, said students hoping to earn college credit through MOOCs should expect some sort of fee, but MOOC completion – without credits attached – should be available for free.

“Bottom line for me, a [student] should at least be able to participate in [a MOOC] without having to spent any money, neither on textbooks nor on registration fee,” Schuwer said. “Now it gives a taste of, ‘Hey, let’s call this a MOOC, because in the current hype we will attract more attention.’ Although ill-defined, general commitment to [being open] in MOOC is the free availability, not only ‘open to everyone who wants to attend.’”

“I am not too afraid this will open a floodgate for further charges,” he continued. “What I do expect are a greater variety of services offered around MOOCs, without affecting the free core of a MOOC.”