There’s an experiment underway at a few top universities around the world to make some master’s degrees out there more affordable.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for example, says the class of 2018 can get a master’s degree in supply chain management for more than $20,000 off from the university’s normal price, which runs upwards of $67,000 for the current year academic year.
But it’s not as simple as sending in a coupon with your tuition bill.
It’s called a “MicroMasters.” MIT, Columbia University, the University of Michigan and the Rochester Institute of Technology are among a dozen or so universities globally that are giving this online program a shot.
It’s not a full degree, but a sort of certificate, and can be a step toward a degree.
There are things in it for students, and for the school.
What’s in it for students: cost
Let’s take Danaka Porter as an example. She’s a 31-year-old business consultant from Vancouver, British Columbia, and says a master’s degree was exactly what she needed to boost her career.
“I found that people were a little bit more respected, I guess, once they had their master’s because it was like they had taken that next step to go a little bit further,” she says.
But she couldn’t afford to stop working and become a full-time student again. She owns a house, she says, and “I have bills, and all of that stuff that doesn’t stop because I wanted to go to school.”
When a friend told that MIT was piloting its first partially online master’s degree in supply chain management, she signed up.
The tuition for a year in the master’s of supply chain management costs $67,938. Her MicroMasters certification, though, is just $1,350.
It’s called a MicroMasters because it isn’t a full degree, just a step toward one, though Porter says the coursework is just as rigorous as if she were on MIT’s campus in Cambridge.
“It requires a lot of effort and if you don’t have a background in math, engineering or supply chain it’s not a breeze. Like, we do have people that fail,” she says.
Even if she passes the certification, Porter will still need to complete a semester “in residence” at full cost if she wants to finish her graduate degree. It’s part of what MIT calls the “blended” program — online and on-campus.
Getting accepted is no easy task. MIT says it expects to admit 40 students a year into the blended program.
Some top schools from around the world are on board with MIT.
There’s user experience research and design from the University of Michigan; entrepreneurship from the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore; and artificial intelligence from Columbia University, among others.
Even if students don’t go for a full master’s, the online course work can make them more appealing to employers.
Industry leaders who say they can’t find enough qualified candidates are looking for very specific skills like the ones being taught. GE, Walmart, IBM and Volvo have recognized MicroMasters and are encouraging their employees and job applicants to take these courses.
Some students who are enrolled in MIT’s on-campus program wish these online courses had been available to them before spending big on their degrees.
“If this was an option, I think I would have considered it,” says Veronica Stolear, a graduate student at MIT from Caracas, Venezuela. She quit her job in the oil industry to earn her master’s in supply chain management. Ultimately, though, she thinks her on-campus experience will pay off.
“The in-campus program is more expensive, but you’re getting also the experience of living in Boston, interacting with people from MIT that might not be in supply chain but might be in like the business school and like other types of departments,” she says.
What’s in it for schools: getting the best applicants
You might be wondering what MIT gets out this arrangement.
Admissions officers here say they’ll weigh applicants’ performance in these online courses.
Anant Agarwal, an MIT professor and CEO of the online-learning platform edX that makes these online courses possible, sees it all as a way to filter the applicant pool.
“When you get applications from people all over the world, it’s often a crap-shoot,” he says. “You don’t know the veracity of the recommendation letters or the grades. And so you’re taking a bet very often.”
And Agarwal says that should give MIT and other institutions a better sense of how students will perform — if they’re lucky enough to get in.
February 15, 2017 at 10:04PM
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