February 7, 2013
MOOC provider Coursera is leading the way for online students to earn college credits at traditional institutions. In a recent blog post, the online education provider announced that the American Council on Education evaluated and endorsed five Coursera courses for college credit upon successful completion.
The five courses are from three universities—the University of California Irvine, Duke University and the University of Pennsylvania. Four courses—“Pre-Calculus,” “Introduction to Genetics and Evolution,” “Bioelectricity: A Quantitative Approach” and “Calculus: Single Variable” have been recommended for undergraduate credit. “Algebra” from UC Irvine received endorsement for vocational credit.
As Inside Higher Ed pointed out, the recommendation from ACE is a significant move within higher education and particularly for MOOCs as it creates a clearer path for students who are taking free courses to earn college credits. The Wall Street Journal noted that Coursera, which has more than 2.5 million registered students, asked the council to evaluate the five courses back in November as the ACE recommendation would illustrate that MOOCs are a legitimate form of learning and, therefore, bring them closer to academic acceptance. However, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education, despite the ACE endorsement, individual institutions have the final say when it comes to accepting credit.
“Ultimately, the degree-granting institution decides what credits to accept,” explained Cathy A. Sandeen, ACE vice president for education attainment and innovation, to The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Some colleges are hesitant about the idea. For example, Excelsior College will not accept credits earned in a Coursera MOOC. Although the school does support the idea of granting credits for non-traditional learning methods, college president John Ebersole stated that he felt the Coursera assessment process was not rigorous enough. Similarly, Duke Provost Peter Lange told The Wall Street Journal he will not grant credits to any student who has enrolled in the university’s Bioelectricity and Genetics courses despite the ACE recommendation because, as he said, “they’re not taught the way we teach Duke courses.” Duke, however, does grant college credits for online courses on 2U.
The Wall Street Journal noted that, for some universities, the decision to accept MOOCs for credit may come down to money. Elite universities, for example, may be motivated by tuition and fees to not accept credit from students who took a free online class. The Chronicle of Higher Education also speculated that universities might choose to preserve their sources of revenue.
ACE has taken the lead in assessing the role of MOOCs in higher education. The council has been backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to examine how MOOCs can improve college access and completion. It is also reviewing courses from Udacity.
While the ACE endorsement is a big accomplishment, Coursera co-founder Andrew Ng said some would be slow to warm up to the idea.
“I think it’s still so new that a lot of us are getting used to the implications and what this means,” Ng said in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Compiled by Heidi M. Agustin
“American Council on Education Recommends 5 MOOCs for Credit,” chronicle.com, February 7, 2013, Steve Kolowich
“Big MOOC Coursera Moves Closer to Academic Acceptance,” online.wsj.com, February 7, 2013, Melissa Korn
“Expanding Pathways to MOOC credit,” insidehighered.com, February 7, 2013, Doug Lederman
“Five Courses Receive College Credit Recommendations,” blog.coursera.org, February 7, 2013