California’s Experiment With Massive Online Courses Restricted To University Students

California’s radical experiment in massively open online courses (MOOCs) is not so radical anymore. San Jose State University will scale back the number of purely online courses and restrict them to enrolled students. “The goal right now is to focus on providing access to all CSU [California State University] students, including SJSU students,” San Jose State University spokesperson Patricia Harris said to me in an email.

In other words, outsiders are no longer welcome.

Over the last year, SJSU has had a bumpy¬†partnership with MOOC provider, Udacity. Students in the on-campus equivalent courses did significantly better than their online counterparts in the Spring 2013 pilot, but were roughly equivalent during the following Summer semester (graph below). Comparisons were difficult, since the Spring semester was brand new and admitted non-SJSU students, but Summer’s class was generally older and more educated.


The highly controversial low-cost program seems to tearing apart the fragile relationship between SJSU and Udacity. Now, SJSU will maintain control over the courses and offer through their own provider, CourseMatch. Udacity won’t make any profit on the courses. Moreover, costs will increase, from $150 to tuition price at the schools. Harris would not comment whether there are future plans.

It’s widely acknowledged that MOOCs have difficulty serving underprivileged and under-motivated students. “It’s a group for which this medium is not a good fit,” admitted Udacity founder Sebastian Thrun. Of course, colleges do a pretty poor job of retaining students generally, with only 54% of students finishing their degree in 6 years.

MOOCs continue to expand, as colleges around the country race to try out new online models. But, at least in california, the experiment goes on without a crucial demographic necessary to see how to open up the college gates.

[Image Credit: Flickr user John-Morgan]