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MOOC Master's Degree Makes Big Splash in Debut


The application period for Georgia Tech’s MOOC-based computer science master’s program has just closed, and the results are stellar. More than 2,350 applications were received for the program’s first year, nearly double the number of applicants to the school’s more traditional computer science master’s program. Clearly, the fears that nobody would be interested in a MOOC-based degree were unfounded.

Yet while the headline number is obviously great news for the future of MOOCs, what’s most interesting about the applications is that the vast majority (79 percent) of applicants are American citizens, compared with only 9 percent for the residential program. (This may sound alarming at first blush, but numbers like these are actually a somewhat typical  for grad programs in fields like computer science.) The strong uptick in American students suggests that the MOOC degree may be reaching people who otherwise wouldn’t be able pursue a master’s. As the WSJ reports:

“The problem is that there is no guarantee that we’re always going to be able to attract talented foreign graduate students,” said Mr. Ehrenberg. “We don’t know what the immigration policy will be or what job opportunities there will be here relative to these people’s home countries so the notion of providing more of your own is certainly important.”

Sebastian Thrun, the CEO of Udacity, which is partnering with Georgia Tech as well as AT&T to create the program, said the large number of U.S. applicants highlighted a demand among adult students. “There is a really huge number of people in this country that would love to get an education while having a job or raising a family or staying at home,” Mr. Thrun said. “But that need is being unmet.”

The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on. Message to the world of post-secondary ed: winter is coming—maybe much faster than you think.

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