The Georgia Institute of Technology announced Tuesday that it will offer an online master's degree for less than $7,000 through a partnership with Udacity, an online course provider.
The pilot program for a master's in computer science from Georgia Tech, a public college, will cost students about one-third what Georgia students pay for on-campus enrollment, according to Bloomberg Businessweek (the on-campus cost is six to seven times higher for out-of-state students). The school explains on its website that the only difference between its MS and OMS is the course structure and the speed at which students choose to finish the classes.
Udacity is known for its platform for so-called massive open online courses, in which anyone can enroll free of charge. A number of notable public and private universities now participate in MOOCs, but not all offer credit for them. For the Georgia Tech program, students will have to apply and be accepted by the institution, as well as pay tuition, in order to receive credit toward the degree, but anyone can participate in the classes at no cost.
"You know there is a revolution going on, right?" Zvi Galil, the dean of computing at Georgia Tech, told Inside Higher Ed. "And we have been a part of this revolution, but I thought we could be leaders in this revolution by taking it to the next level, by doing the revolutionary step.”
Charles Isbell, senior associate dean for the College of Computing at Georgia Tech, told the Wall Street Journal that the cost for setting up online lectures runs between $200,000 and $300,000, but then drops once the class is established. A professor would be able to handle up to 10 times the number of students online, compared to a class held on campus (which is precisely what professors at other institutions worry about.)
Sebastian Thrun, co-founder of Udacity, portrayed the Georgia Tech program as an attempt to democratize higher education by opening up access to those who might not otherwise be able to afford it.
"I have been fortunate," Thrun wrote in a blog post. "Yet so many potential learners are still denied access. Education has become much more exclusive, and getting into a top-10 computer science department, like Georgia Tech's, is still out of reach for all but a chosen few."
The price tag of Georgia Tech's pilot program also falls in line with recent efforts, mostly spurred by Republican governors like those in Texas and Florida, to lower the cost of degrees at public universities.
Students with a degree in computer science are more likely to nab a job than those in other fields, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts around a 20 percent growth for computer science-related jobs.