Has Coursera solved the catch-22 of for-credit MOOCs?

It’s the catch-22 of massive open online courses (MOOCs). Students want college credit for MOOCs, which would raise the price tag of the often-free courses.

One campus technologist said a full tuition MOOC wouldn’t garner support.

At the same time, the fact that MOOCs are free is the main reason most students take the courses to begin with.

But, Coursera may have begun to solve this riddle. The platform announced last week that it had reached $1 million in revenue from its Signature Track courses, which offer verified certificates for a fee.

“The success of the Signature Track program validates the potential for students to benefit from what is becoming a brand new currency for lifelong learning achievement,” the company said on its blog.

While Coursera sees this as evidence that a new, cheaper alternative to the traditional college credit is gaining more mainstream acceptance, it could also provide something else to educators: proof that plenty of students are willing to pay up to $100 for what has been billed as free educational content.

If students are willing to do that, could that mean they’re also willing to pay even more per course to receive the traditional, and still much more widely-recognized, college credit?

Ray Schroeder, associate vice chancellor for online learning at the University of Illinois at Springfield, said that would have to be determined by how discounted universities are willing to make the price tag.

“If a university were to offer a MOOC course, certificate, or degree at a modest rate, I believe that students would sign up,” Schroeder said. “Charging 10 percent or less of normal tuition for a MOOC-delivered program is likely to be very popular. Charging full tuition for a MOOC is far less likely to garner much support.”

See Page 2 for details about how MOOCs and universities could be forever at odds.

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