MOOCs: Corporate welfare for credit

The New York Times declared 2012 to be the Year of the MOOC, enthusiastically adopting venture capitalist argot advocating “disruption” and “starting the revolution that has higher education gasping.” Thomas Friedman referred to Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) as a “revolution” nine times in three separate columns.

The Chronicle of Higher Education, less pithily, has issued the “Infinite Jest”-like imperative “Call it the year of the mega-class.” A Chronicle survey of professors who had taught MOOCs (which admitted that its sample was “stacked with true believers” in digital learning) found that 79 percent of instructors “believe MOOCs are worth the hype.”

This euphoria feels familiar, and for good reason. For all the hype about innovation and disruption, the MOOC providers — for-profit companies such as Coursera and Udacity — are following a previously beaten path, one laid out by earlier proponents of for-profit education in the charter school reform movement.

The plan is simple. First, declare a crisis in education that doesn’t actually exist. Second, declare that a for-profit model can fix the crisis. (This is easy when you get to invent the particular calamity.) Third, rather than starting small and building empirical support from experts in the field, seek sweeping legislative changes that lock your position into the system.

… The crisis in U.S. higher education is not a crisis of access — it’s one of retention. More U.S. students than ever before are starting college. The problem is that our students aren’t finishing college. Six-year graduation rates vary from 51 percent at private institutions, all the way down to 21 percent at state schools. This is the real crisis, and it is one that MOOCs are singularly ill-equipped to address.

Read more