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MIT to offer Free Online Classes which lead to a Degree

First time a university has made online coursework a feeder to a degree.

Photo of Alexandra Alden
12 15

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Students can now start a Master's program for free at MIT using their free online classes. If at the end of the year they pass their exam they are eligible to do the second year of the program on campus and pay half of what they would have paid!

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How might we integrate online learning into respected degree programs?


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Photo of Izabela Correa

Hi Alexandra!

This idea seems really interesting. Thanks for sharing.

I couldn't check the link that you posted. It doesn't work. :( But I Google it and found some extra information about the program. :)

The program called "MicroMaster's" include costs of $150 for each of the five online classes, plus up to $800 to take the exam. The first courses in supply chain management will launch this winter, with plans to route about 40 students each semester from the online courses to the campus program.

During the research something that I found really interesting is the fact that this new system will not only affect the costs, but also the application process. “This approach basically inverts the traditional admission process. I believe that’s a very powerful concept,” said MIT’s president, Rafael Reif. “Applicants do not have to hope that we guess right about them, because they have the chance to prove in advance that they can do the work.”

Examples of other universities offering online degrees: "This year, Arizona State University started offering freshman courses online for free, with the option to pay for course credit later at a cost of up to $200 per credit hour. The Georgia Institute of Technology offers an online master's degree in computer science for $6,600, but the classes can be taken for free without credit. The University of Illinois has an online master's degree in business using a similar model." (

For those that want to know more check some

Photo of Shane Zhao

Awesome to see your dive deep into Alexandra's post Izabella! The notion of using free-online courses as a feeder-program to on-campus education is fascinating. It's great to see how colleges like ASU and Georgia Tech are testing this model as well. It'll be interesting to explore how these online programs can lead to more 4-yr bachelor degrees for students. Check out Kevin's post on the tuition-free online bachelor's program offered by The University of the People:

Photo of Alexandra Alden

Really interesting to see this is a trend!

Photo of Izabela Correa

Hi Shane. I'm glad that you enjoyed my comment. And thanks for sharing Kevin's post.

I believe the big question is exactly how could online programs be used as an alternative of 4-yr bachelor degrees, allowing low-income students to have access to high education?

I did a quick research and I'm not sure if online courses have been meaningfully democratize access to education. Some researches have shown that about three-quarters of enrollees on online courses already have a degree and are merely interested in continuing education for fun or for professional development. (

So, while it is awesome that this kind of initiative is becoming a trend, it is important (as you mentioned) to think how to make sure that it impacts those that need most.

Photo of Deepak Patel

As a regular user of MIT OpenCourseWare, I am excited for the exposure this new initiative is getting, and the potential outcome it could have if it proves to be successful.

I used MIT OpenCourseWare first in high school, taking computer science classes. Then, when I took the courses of the same topic at my university, I realized it was essentially as if I had already taken the class. I am very interested in seeing how this can become more available. The courses contain materials, and many have videos of every lecture!

I wonder if in the future, these courses could be used as credit for universities, in the same mechanism as an AP exam or credit by examination. I think the potential is there, and it is encouraging to see more and more institutions of higher education adopting an online path.

Also, in my post, I wrote about how the OpenCourseWare allowed me exposure to topics so I could get a feel for what I wanted to major in- without actually paying for the classes, at the risk of later regretting it and finding no interest in the subject.

Here is a link to my contribution, where I talk about similar topics as Alexandra and you have mentioned, if anyone wants to check it out!

Photo of Kellie Marks

Hi Izabela - 

<<I'm not sure if online courses have been meaningfully democratize access to education ... So, while it is awesome that this kind of initiative is becoming a trend, it is important (as you mentioned) to think how to make sure that it impacts those that need most.>> 

This is exactly my concern.
US Census data from 2013 showed that "24.9 million households out of 116.3 million nationwide have no Internet access, not even mobile broadband on a smartphone. In Detroit and some other cities, nearly 40% went without Internet service." (Source:

Online education isn't particularly helpful to students living in households that don't have internet access - the students most in need of affordable education options. That's the insight that prompted my An Xbox in Every Home  contribution. Students can't learn if they can't access the content.

Photo of Izabela Correa

Hi Kellie Marks  ! Making online education accessible and attractive to lower income students is certainly a big challenge. There are several roadblocks to be overcome. In my opinion, the two main problems are access to Internet service (as you mentioned) and motivation (90 percent of students don’t finish their online courses).

Check also this Rob’s post:

Thanks you for sharing your post for the ideas’ phase. I will check it.

Photo of Blake

Very interesting. I'm glad more resources are being put online - I think there is a vast, FREE, untapped fountain of knowledge on the Internet that just simply is not being used by professors in college classes. This is a cool idea.

Photo of Melanie Wells

Thank you for this interesting post Alexandra! The concept of having a tuition-free education could be attractive to those wishing to get a degree and those wishing to advance their skills alike. The question then is, for those hoping to receive a degree for their online education, how can their achievement be legitimized? Despite the fact that online programs can be very successful in educating, there is still a stigma that deems it lesser than a physical classroom education. How then could we put online education on par with classroom education? If the answer is to create standards, and how could they be proven?

Photo of Majed

Interesting idea, thanks for sharing it.

Photo of Alexandra Alden

Fixed the link:

Photo of Kevin Heller

Novel concept, but University of the People has that beat: free classes, but you pay for your exams.