Education
2:52 pm
Mon October 15, 2012

UT System Offers Free Online Courses - But College Credit Still Costs You

The University of Texas System Board of regents voted unanimously this morning to join an initiative to provide free online courses to anyone through a non-profit organization called edX.

Right now, classes offered through edX are not for college credit. Instead, participants can earn a "certificate of mastery." But the UT System has plans to change that in order to help enrolled students take the classes they need.

UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa says that option would have a cost associated with it.

“What that tuition might be is going to have to be a decision made by the campus and, ultimately, by the board of regents," Cigarroa says. "So I can envision a multi-tiered approach. But, fundamentally, all the content that we provide in this massively open online course, you can have access for free, I can have access for free, our alumni can have access for free. But there’s also an opportunity for a multi-tiered approach.”

UT System leaders say they want to become a leader in understanding the best practices in online education.

"Our partnership with edX will help us provide that high-quality education, make it more efficient, make it more accessible and make us more affordable," said UT System Chairman Eugene Powell. "It will strengthen our campuses' ability to reach new markets including working adults, practicing professionals and normal, everyday students around the world."

The UT System will pay $5 million to join edX. The money is coming from the system’s Institute for Transformational Learning initiative.

Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) helped found edX. Both invested about $30 million.

"This is a plan that is sustainable," said Powell. "We will keep 100 percent of our revenue. And, in short, we will better meet the learning needs of a wider range of students. We will raise our graduation rates, cut our costs, ensure that all of our students have access to courses that are best in class."

The UT System plans to provide four online courses through edX by next fall. The University of California-Berkeley is also providing content.

Governor Rick Perry has been pushing the concept of a $10,000 degree. He issued a statement this afternoon that indicates he believes this online learning initiative could make that happen:

“The UT System’s partnership with edX is great news for Texas and exactly the type of effort I hope more schools will consider as we aggressively pursue the goals of improving graduation rates and making a college education more accessible and affordable for Texans."