California’s multi-million dollar online education flop is another blow for MOOCs (The Hechinger Report)

California’s multi-million dollar online education flop is another blow for MOOCs (The Hechinger Report)

Once-celebrated online courses still haven’t lived up to the hype


That was the giddy catchword of a plan by the University of California to create an all-digital “campus” that would revolutionize higher education by providing courses online for students shut out of the system’s brick-and-mortar classrooms at a time of high demand but falling budgets.

Three years later, the Online Instruction Pilot Project has become another expensive example of the ineffectiveness—so far, anyway—of once-vaunted plans to widen access to college degrees by making them available online, including in massive online open courses, known as MOOCs.

The project, which cost $7 million to set up at a time when the state was cutting higher-education funding, aspired to let students take courses across campuses. A UCLA student, for example, would be able to take a UC-Irvine class online.

To make the program self-sustaining, non-UC students were allowed to enroll, too—for $1,000 to $2,000 per course—and to earn academic credit.

But from the spring of 2012 through last spring, only 250 non-UC students finished a class. By then, the system had pretty much abandoned the idea of making money by targeting non-UC students—though a few classes remain available—and focused on letting UC students enroll in courses on other campuses that they couldn’t get into on their own.

The name changed, too, to the Innovative Learning Technology Initiative.

It’s another blow for a movement that promised to offer classes to thousands of students worldwide through MOOCs, which research shows have so far had extraordinarily high dropout rates and have generally cost universities more than they’ve brought in.

“There is no business model for MOOCs that makes sense,” said I. Elaine Allen, a professor at Babson College and co-director of its Babson Survey Research Group, which tracks online education. “They have not been shown to bring more students to a school, and they have incredible attrition.”

More than half of university administrators now agree with her, according to a Babson annual survey. That’s how many say they don’t think MOOCs are financially sustainable—twice as many as were skeptical about MOOCs in 2012.

Fewer schools are now considering the idea of starting MOOCs. In the survey, nearly half have no plans to implement a MOOC, up from about a third in 2012.

Those that do have found them very pricey.

In UC’s case, the system president’s office loaned the Online Instruction Pilot Project the $7 million startup cost, with the loan expected to be repaid by 2019. Two years later, the university swallowed the loss, and repaid the loan from money from its budget that could have been used for other purposes.

With that money, “you could have done tons of stuff,” said Diane Harley, director of the Higher Education in the Digital Age program at UC-Berkeley’s Center for Studies in Higher Education and chair of the Academic Senate committee that had oversight of the pilot project. “With all the budget cuts at the university, [it could have] provided graduate school support or given it to individual campuses to bolster their student learning centers.”


[full article here.]