Colleges, universities look to online programs to navigate an uncertain future

Measured strictly by size, the University of Florida’s recent Fundamentals of Human Nutrition class was a resounding success, the Miami Herald reports. The class, offered this past spring, was UF’s first foray into the online trend of Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs. The class was open to anyone interested, from around the world, and more than 69,000 students signed up. For comparison purposes, UF as a university has a total enrollment of about 50,000 a year. In other ways, though, UF’s MOOC — and the track record of MOOCs in general — is less impressive. With the courses generally offered free of charge (hence the “open” part of their title) some inevitably sign up simply out of curiosity, or because it allows them to listen to the lectures of big-name professors at far-away schools such as Harvard or MIT. Students often have no real intention of doing the work. Completion rates are generally abysmal, with more than 90 percent of students dropping out.