MOOC certificates could cost students up to $150 per month

brokeresizedThe massive open online course (MOOC) platform Udacity will no longer offer completion certificates for free, the company announced this week.

While students can still take the courses for free, Udacity is discontinuing its “non-identity-verified” certificates. Anyone hoping to earn a certificate proving they mastered material in a MOOC must instead pay for a verified certificate. Students can keep the certificates they have already earned.

The change, effective May 16, is to help employers take MOOCs more seriously, Udacity’s founder Sebastian Thrun said in a blog post Wednesday.

“Discontinuing the ‘free’ certificates has been one of the most difficult decisions we’ve made,” Thrun said. “We know that many of our hardworking students can’t afford to pay for classes. At the same time, we cannot hope that our certificates will ever carry great value, if we don’t make this change.”

Currently, Udacity offers two types of courses: full and free. The full courses, which come with a verified certificate as well as other perks like personalized support, cost $150 per month. There does not appear to be a third, or cheaper, option.

In his blog post, Thrun called the fee “relatively modest.”

(Next page: MOOCs stray further from their origins)

“We firmly believe that the money you entrust to us is worth every penny in terms of your learning success, and certificate value (and if you disagree, we have a 2-week money-back guarantee),” he said.

The move further distances Udacity’s MOOCs from the company’s original goal of reaching students struggling with access to higher education. In January, he said MOOCs were never meant to replace a liberal arts education. And in an interview with Fast Company last year, he said MOOCs were a “lousy product” when it came to addressing the needs of low-income students.

That’s a far-cry from what Thrun was saying in Udacity’s early days.

“I think [MOOCs are] the beginning of higher education,” Thrun told CNN in 2012. “It’s the beginning of higher education for everybody.”

That same year, Thrun told Wired that he predicted only 10 higher education institutions would remain in 50 years. Udacity, he said, could be one of them.

In November, Thrun announced a plan to “pivot” Udacity away from traditional higher education and toward employer-centric courses. Thrun framed Wednesday’s announcement in a similar light.

“We keep working hard to bring you the best learning experience. Sometimes it means making tough choices – this was one – to maximize the learning outcome for our students,” he said. “I can’t wait to see more employers seek you out for the skills you develop on Udacity.”

Follow Jake New on Twitter at @eCN_Jake.

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