Online education opportunities are expanding among universities. With the cost of receiving a college degree in the U.S. continuing to grow, coupled with the desire to increase access to higher education, professors and universities have turned their focus to developing an alternative platform for delivering their instruction. Universities such as MIT and Stanford have successfully launched free online programs offering their curriculum and professors to a global community of learners not enrolled in their degree programs on campus. The concept of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) is gaining popularity, as Stanford’s Coursera program has recently earned the partnerships of University of Michigan, U Penn, and Princeton. For more, see Blog.

MIT opened registration for its first online course through MITx in January 2012. MITx is the university’s new online spinoff devoted to offering interactive online versions of MIT courses to people not enrolled at the prestigious university. MIT originally began making their course content available via the Internet through the MIT OpenCourseware Program (OCW). According to “Breaking Virtual Ground,” participants will watch five- to ten-minute video tutorials, read e-textbooks, and complete homework assignments, virtual labs, and exams. At the end of the course, they will receive a grade and a certificate from MITx. Some sources feel that as enrollment increases, there will be a need to establish a monitoring system to replace the honor system of completing coursework.

Additional universities and partnerships have launched MOOCs. Udacity began enrolling students in affordable, university-level education in the fall of 2011. It offers online courses taught by professors from Stanford and University of Michigan. The question of credentials still comes into play, as John Etchemendy, the Stanford provost says, “Our business is education, and I’m all in favor of supporting anything that can help educate more people around the world. But there are issues to consider, from copyright questions to what it might mean for our accreditation if we provide some official credential for these courses, branded as Stanford.”

Udemy, another for-profit organization providing MOOCs, recently announced a new faculty project, in which award-winning professors from universities like Dartmouth, University of Virginia, and Northwestern offer free online courses.  Coursera is another MOOC, started by professors from Stanford, in an effort to make “the best education in the world freely available to any person who seeks it, according to An LMS for Elite MOOCs?. The courses are currently free, but will not count as credit toward a degree at Stanford. As of April 2012, Coursera has secured $16 million in support from venture capitalists and partnerships.  It has also received partnerships from University of Pennsylvania, University of Michigan, and Princeton. With the support of a global online community, participants can expect answers to their questions in under twenty minutes.

This next generation of higher education can solve some campus’ problems of overcrowding. The California State University System has implemented an online, virtual campus with the goal of increasing capacity at California State. The University hopes that a centrally administered approach to online education will enable them to enroll more online students and turn away fewer qualified applicants. According to “Cal State’s Online Plan,” the Long Beach campus turned away more than 40,000 qualified applicants last year because of the capacity issue.