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Education Innovation
MOOCs and the Future of Accreditation

MOOC provider Coursera has announced that it will partner with several companies on its short degree programs, including such big names as Google and Instagram. The companies’ imprimaturs are intended to add value to the degree and extra shine to students’ resumes. As the Chronicle of Higher Education reports:

On Wednesday, Coursera, one of the largest MOOC platforms, announced that it had teamed up with more than half a dozen companies that will help create capstone projects for its course series. The companies include the tech giant Google as well as Instagram and Shazam—all names likely to entice students looking to get a start in Silicon Valley. […]

By helping develop MOOC-certificate programs, companies are giving a seal of approval to those new credentials that may be more important to some students than whether an accredited university or a well-trained professor is involved.

Daphne Koller, a co-founder of Coursera, says that teaming up with companies can “really drive home the value proposition that these courses are giving you a skill that is valuable in the workplace.” She says it also lets Coursera play a role in “bridging the gap” between higher education and industry.

This reminds us of an interesting proposal floated by GOP Congressmen: the loosening of accreditation restrictions to allow organizations and companies to accredit academic programs or courses. As of now, only degree-granting institutions can be accredited, and only the federal government can certify an accreditor, not states; this is important because students’ eligibility for federal loans or grants depends on their school’s accreditation status. Senator Mike Lee’s proposal, for example, would permit a state to allow anyone, from Google to a regional software company, to accredit a local college program or apprenticeship.

Higher education being the cartel that it is, however, colleges and universities won’t give up the regulations restricting accreditation without a fight. But who knows? A small partnership on a MOOC may lead to greater involvement for some of these companies, following the example of AT&T’s contribution to Georgia Tech’s online computer science Master’s degree. Whether or not businesses become sufficiently invested to support accreditation changes (potential boon for their workforce though it is), the shape of higher education is changing. Future students are counting on today’s educational innovations, and their eventual triumph over some if not all bureaucratic barriers.

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  • FriendlyGoat

    It’s a matter of time until entrepreneurs do an end run around accreditation. The three keys are ensuring that corporations will actually hire graduates of alternative programs, that the cost of completion is massively lower than the traditional schools (not the career college swindle) and that financing is available without the federal strings.

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