2u’s Semester Online consortium will soon disband

2U-online-classesThis summer 2U’s for-credit online course platform Semester Online will offer two dozen new courses on subjects ranging from forensics to Shakespeare. They will also be the program’s last.

After years of high-profile partnership announcements, stumbles, and false starts, 2U will discontinue its online learning consortium before the new school year begins.

The program allows universities to pool together resources to offer for-credit online courses. While the courses’ video lecture format is often compared to massive open online courses, Semester Online courses are quite different from MOOCs. The courses aren’t open to just anybody, and they’re hardly massive, with many courses being capped at 20 students.

But the experiment was seen as a step forward in cutting away some of the bureaucratic red tape that prevents online courses like MOOCs from being accredited.

Several high-profile universities lined up to become partners — at first.

This past May, three top-tier universities dropped out of the program. Two months later, three more took their place.

(Next page: Why did Semester Online disband?)

Altogether, the consortium included was comprised of Baylor University, Southern Methodist University, Temple University , Boston College, Brandeis University, Emory University, Northwestern University, the University of North Caroline at Chapel Hill, University of Notre Dame, and Washington University in St. Louis.

But the ups-and-downs continued for the program this fall, when more universities dropped out and student enrollment was lower than expected. Last week, the College of Arts and Sciences faculty at Washington University voted to end its partnership with Semester Online, according to the university’s student newspaper.

While some said they were dismayed about the falling out, many members of the faculty had expressed concern about the program, citing an unease with offering nonprofit education through a for-profit company.

“Regardless of the intentions of 2U at the inception of this project, we are left now with a relationship that raises questions of bad faith,” Michael Sherberg, chair of the Department of Romance Languages and Literature, said at a faculty meeting. “In part, we cannot trust this relationship because there is a frustrating lack of transparency about it.”

The rest of the consortium disbanded soon after.

2U is far from done with online learning, however. The company still offers a fully online master of information and data science degree with the University of California at Berkeley, as well as degree programs at the George Washington University, Georgetown University, and Simmons College.

Late last month, 2U filed for a $100 million initial public offering, a goal it surpassed by the end of its first day on the market.

Follow Jake New on Twitter at @eCN_Jake.

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