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Georgia Tech MOOC-Based Degree Program Turns Away Nearly 2,000 Applicants

A totally MOOC-based master's degree in computer science announced last spring has opened for business with about 375 students. The new program, being delivered by Georgia Institute of Technology's College of Computing, claims to be the "first and only" one from an accredited university that operates entirely through a massive open online course format.

The degree program received 2,360 applications during a three-week period in October, about 75 percent more applications than are typically received for the on-campus program during an entire year. Of those, 401 students were offered admission, and 94 percent enrolled for the Spring 2014 semester. According to Georgia Tech, a couple of differences distinguish MOOC enrollment from on-campus enrollment. Whereas 88 percent of the MOOC students are United States citizens or permanent residents, about 90 percent are international in the on-campus program. Also, the average age of the MOOC students is 34.8, about 11 years older than their on-campus counterparts.

Although the individual courses will eventually be open to anybody in the world, only those formally admitted into Georgia Tech will receive credit. The institution said that it anticipates making the course content available publicly and for free on the Udacity site later in the year.

Most students will pay less than $7,000 for a graduate degree. The traditional program can cost nearly $45,000 for an on-campus student.

"This program addresses a clear and growing need globally: to provide flexible, high-quality education in vital fields for a price that's affordable for working professionals," said Nelson Baker, Georgia Tech's dean of professional education. "Almost every student enrolled this spring is also working full time, something that would be extremely difficult to do in a traditional program."

Although students may take a maximum of 21 hours in the fall or spring semesters, the school is recommending that working professionals enroll in no more than two courses simultaneously. The expectation is that students taking two courses will spend "roughly" 18 hours per week on coursework. Georgia Tech anticipates that most students will complete the degree in about three years; however, enrollments up to six years will also be allowed. Those who take longer will pay more.

"Since we announced the online Master of Science in Computer Science last May, our goal has been to create the best possible academic experience for our online students, just as we try to do for all of Georgia Tech's residential students," added Georgia Tech Provost Rafael Bras. "Today marks the culmination of several months of extremely hard work by faculty, administrators and staff at Georgia Tech and the beginning of a new opportunity for lifelong learners."

The institute is working with Udacity and AT&T. Content will be delivered through the Udacity MOOC platform, and AT&T is providing financial support with the expectation that its own workforce will be able to take advantage of the program. More than 80 of the initial students are employees of the company, which provided $2 million to support program costs.

The five initial courses in the program include:

  • Advanced Operating Systems;
  • Computer Networks;
  • Software Development Process;
  • Machine Learning; and
  • Artificial Intelligence for Robotics.

The curriculum in the pilot program represents a subset of the on-campus curriculum, allowing for a full master's degree in computer science but with only some of the specializations that are available in the on-campus program. The institute indicated it expects the MOOC curriculum to expand as more courses come online.

Udacity has hired extra staff to support the technical infrastructure and answer student questions about accessing course materials. Georgia Tech will provide support personnel for all academic and enrollment questions.

The next enrollment period for Summer 2014 will take place March 3-23. The Fall semester enrollment will run April 21-May 11.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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