MIT and others launch a tech education revolution

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

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Udacity also plans to help students find jobs, and it's considering placement or fees charged to employers. When asked what the incentive or motivation would be for employers to consider Udacity students, Stavens said via email: "Students will have completed a high-quality curriculum and will have been assessed by some of the leading faculty in the world."

"At top universities, the rigor of the classes is guaranteed almost entirely by the faculty teaching them," said Stavens. "Since Udacity has distinguished faculty who also teach at top universities or have impressive records in industry, we feel the classes are comparable."

Udacity's offerings include classes with titles such as these: Programming a Robotic Car, Web Application Engineering, and Applied Cryptography.

"The rigor of classes at most universities is guaranteed by the faculty, not by some process within the university," said Stavens. "As long as Udacity continues to attract outstanding teachers, we can be comparable to great universities."

The University of Illinois at Springfield

UIS is considered a pioneer in online education. The online version of the school's computer science program has been so successful that online enrollment now exceeds on-campus enrollment.

Last year, 121 students were enrolled in the on-campus computer science bachelor's degree program, and 171 students were enrolled online. In the master's program, there were 129 students on campus, and 146 enrolled in the online version. About 70% of the online students are from out of state, including some from other countries, said Ted Mims, a professor and chair of the UIS computer science department.

Most online programs established by universities will attract students who live relatively close to a school's actual campus, said Elaine Allen, a professor of statistics and entrepreneurship at Babson College and co-director of the Babson Survey Research Group, which produces an annual report on online learning in the U.S. However, she said, UIS is an exception to that rule, because it started offering online classes much earlier than other institutions. "They were really thinking ahead," she said.

Although university programs can't compete strictly on cost with open education providers, they can reduce the cost of an education.

An online master's degree at UIS costs less than $13,000 based on 32 hours of course work. There is no out-of-state tuition penalty for online students, and the cost of an online program is even a little bit below the in-state on-campus price because fees are lower.

Bernico, the UIS alum, earned his master's degree online over a period of three years while juggling a job and family responsibilities. He said he didn't need a student loan.

"Programs as well thought out and put together as UIS are pretty darn rare still," said Bernico.

And Mims pointed out that, whether a program is completed online or in the classroom, there's no difference in what the diploma says.

Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His email address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

See more by Patrick Thibodeau on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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