Bill Gates: MOOC providers should take a lesson from for-profit college sector

MOOCs have sported completion rates around 10 percent.

Microsoft founder and CEO Bill Gates said universities that provide massive open online courses (MOOCs) should engage in more “hand holding” with students as a way to stem the sky-high dropout rate in the online educational settings.

Gates, while answering audience questions July 15 at Microsoft Research’s Faculty Summit, suggested ways MOOCs could better serve traditional and nontraditional students, including taking a page from the often-maligned for-profit college industry.

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Gates said that while MOOC providers and universities experimenting with the nascent online technology should avoid for-profit colleges’ “over-marketing and over-promising” that has been “properly admonished” in recent years, the industry is expert at providing support to its students.

“Because they are profit driven, the way they track students and see what’s going on” could be seen by MOOCs and public universities as a “best practice,” Gates said. Contacting a student after she has missed a lecture, for example, could keep her from joining the legions of students who have dropped out of MOOCs on every popular platform.

Studies over the past year have shown MOOC completion rates to hover around 10 percent.

See Page 2 for details on the for-profit college business leader experimenting with MOOCs…

Michael K. Clifford, a longtime powerhouse in the for-profit college industry, launched a website this summer offering 27 courses that can lead to college credits, similar to MOOCs.

For $299 per course, students of Clifford’s unaccredited, not-for-profit DreamDegree program can earn credits toward a college degree, joining a growing list of similar services provided through MOOCs and MOOC-like platforms.

Clifford, before the launching of DreamDegree, was known for converting small colleges into for-profit institutions designed for working adults and other nontraditional students.

The for-profit college industry has waged a well-publicized battle with federal regulators who point to high dropout rates and skyrocketing college costs and school loan debt among for-profit students.