MIT and others launch a tech education revolution

Four programs deliver traditional -- and nontraditional -- education options for techies

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MIT hasn't figured out exactly how much to charge for a certificate or credential, but Agarwal said, "We want to make it very affordable, very inexpensive." He suggested pricing in the "very low triple digits," but quickly added that that's just a guess.

Students who complete a single class will receive a certificate, which will include a grade. Agarwal said MITx will award credentials to students who successfully complete a series of courses in a specific discipline, such as energy or parallel programming.

The idea behind credentials "turns the concept of a degree on its head and makes it much more flexible," said Agarwal, adding that "students can take some courses in biology, chemistry, maybe some artificial intelligence, and string them together."

The type of people Agarwal envisions taking MITx classes include high school students using the courses as a form of advanced placement to help with college admission, adults who have jobs and want more training, and those who are looking for work.

Agarwal said he believes that employers will see value in MITx course work, and he predicted that a grade of an A or a B on a certificate could help a student land an interview.

He's passionate about MITx's broader mission.

There are "far more people that want a good education than there are quality universities that can offer education," he said. MIT accepts less than 10% of the people who apply for admission, he said, and the acceptance rate of The Indian Institutes of Technology is even lower. "Time and time again, we see that the demand simply overwhelms the supply."

Oregon State University

In June, Oregon State University will offer an entire computer science degree online. It will be possible to complete the program in as little as 12 months, but students can extend that to several years. The program will cost about $15,000 and is intended for people who already hold bachelor's degrees in other areas, such as anthropology, biology or English.

Teaching assistants have been hired to offer 24-hour support for students. "If they send an email at 2 a.m., they will get an immediate response," said Terri Fiez, who heads OSU's School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

The program is open to anyone, anywhere in the world, said Fiez, but Oregon State is following a traditional approach: It caps class sizes and has an admissions process. Oregon State awards about 90 computer science degrees annually, and that figure is much lower than the number of help wanted ads that appear in the department's newsletter over the course a year, said Fiez. The university hopes the online program will help it double the number of computer science graduates it produces.

Skip Newberry, the president of the Software Association of Oregon, supports Oregon State's effort. He says employers are looking for people who exhibit curiosity, are fast learners and can demonstrate what it means to do logic. The online program will give people a basic level of proficiency in those areas, he said.

"As a one-year complement to actual on-the-job experience, I think this program can be pretty powerful," said Newberry.

Udacity

Udacity, which has 140,000 people enrolled in its latest classes, plans to offer a computer science curriculum online sometime this year. The computer science program will feature course work similar to what's needed to earn a computer science degree at a university, without the humanities classes and other electives. Students who complete segments of this curriculum will receive a credential.

Udacity classes are free but, as MIT might do with its MITx program, the company might consider charging money for certificates, said David Stavens, Udacity's CEO and co-founder.

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