Bernie Sanders may not have made it to the Oval Office to put his plan of free education into play, but that hasn’t stopped some major universities from heeding the call for cheaper credentials for their advanced degree programs–and saving students nearly 90% in tuition.
MOOCS: A New Era of Online Learning
In 2014, Georgia Tech announced its new Online Master of Science degree in Computer Science (OMS CS) for an astounding $6,600. For comparison, Georgia Tech’s traditional Master of Science degree in Computer Science (MS SC) comes in at around $60,000 for non-residents.
Much like the vibe of other Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) found on Coursera and EdX, students in Georgia Tech’s OMS CS program can take the credit hours they need to advance their education on their own schedule, without sacrificing their full-time job that helps fund their studies.
The University of Illinois recently followed suit with its 100% online iMBA program. Both Georgia Tech and the University of Illinois facilitate the programs via MOOCs, which allow students to remotely earn their advanced credentials at a fraction of the normal cost.
Micro-Credentials Present a New Practical Option
Since these inceptions, several elite universities have joined the task by offering micro-credentialing programs, making it cheaper and easier for students everywhere to achieve their higher education goals.
Schools like MIT, the University of Michigan, Columbia University and other high profile institutions have begun offering online micro degree programs to further a professional’s academic interests for substantially less than normal tuition rates.
By giving students an affordable option that also allows them to continue working, programs like these could solve the student loan woes for many debt-infused individuals.
Nanodegree Versus Real Degree
Don’t let the term “nanodegree” fool you: these accredited programs size up to their pricey counterparts in many ways. Students participating in a micro degree (or “MicroMasters”, as some schools call it) program must still meet specific admission standards, maintain a minimum GPA, and complete coursework on a deadline.
Micro-credentials and nanodegrees are not the same thing as, say, a Bachelor or Master’s degree. College degree programs are quite a bit more intensive, and cover a broader range of topics, while nanodegrees hone in on specific skill sets.
To put it simply, a MicroMasters isn’t a full degree; rather, it’s a step towards one. But these bite-sized programs offer plenty of exclusive benefits you won’t find in a traditional classroom setting:
First, these programs are more career-oriented, diving deep into a particular area of interest. Each program offers real job relevancy, and you can be confident that the skills you learn will help you in your field.
Second, MicroMasters can help get you one step closer to enrolling in a full-fledged Master’s degree program. When you successfully complete your MicroMasters course and want to continue your advancement, you may have the opportunity to apply for the on-campus portion of the program, using your previously completed coursework as credit.
Third, a MicroMasters degree is designed for students to earn credit around their schedule. Whether a student works full time at a day job or travels frequently, anybody who can find a couple hours a day – anytime of day – can participate.
But perhaps one of the biggest benefits is the affordability. Students who want to learn a specific skill can do so without forking out the costs for an entire degree program. Or students can opt for a program like that of Georgia Tech and earn their full – yet much more inexpensive – Master’s degree while working full time to help avoid student loan debt.
With coursework very much resembling the same intensity and commitment as though participants were on campus in person, achieving a micro degree means certification within a particular skill set. But a micro degree in the right area can still look appealing to potential employers looking for specific talents, regardless of how much you paid to learn those skills.
The Real Cost of Education
Overwhelming education costs continue to fuel controversy and spark criticism from both the right and the left. While some argue that inflation is the single pilot driving a student’s descent into financial debt, others believe that greed, minimum wage and misuse of university funds are equally to blame.
Regardless of the cost-spiking culprit(s), there’s no doubt that the price of education continues to creep up the charts. But by how much?
Education expenses have experienced much higher inflation than other living costs. A $5 lunch in 1978 might cost slightly more than double today, but college tuition has risen nearly six times the amount it was forty years ago.
In 1978, a student could work for an entire summer to pay for their upcoming tuition fees, but today, a student would have to work full time for an entire year at minimum wage to cover their tuition. Students are also covering a larger percentage of their college expenses than they were back then, thanks to a drop-off in Pell Grants and other factors.
Of course, there’s no going back to the prices 1970s for anything, education included. But this drastic increase in college costs calls for a reexamination of the purpose and benefits college offers, and how students can reap those benefits in the most economical way while still receiving an ROI for their efforts.
Politics aside, there is one thing both sides should be able to agree on: with education costs at an all-time high, it makes financial sense to explore less expensive educational opportunities.
Major universities expanding their offerings with select Massive Open Online Courses are finally providing debt-fearing students (and their parents) a silver lining that may otherwise have never existed. As MOOCs continue to grow and fight back against the student debt crisis, could attaining an advanced degree via this non-traditional outlet potentially become as commonplace as one gained through sitting in a real-life lecture hall? We’ll see.