Like dozens of other universities across the country, the University of Washington, Seattle, has offered free massive open online courses through companies such as Coursera and edX. The school is now experimenting with a way to produce revenue by charging for more rigorous versions of the free courses for credit.
University officials figure classes could pay for themselves if just 30 to 40 students would be willing to pay for each for-credit offering, which includes extra work and allows students to either attend the class in person or participate through live video/audio. However, what seemed like a good idea in theory has yet to work well in practice.
For instance, the university offered a computational finance course through Coursera last quarter that had an enrollment of more than 30,000 people, but just two chose the for-credit option. A scientific computing class attracted nearly 15,000 people, but none of them were willing to pay.
David Szatmary, vice provost of UW Educational Outreach, told The Seattle Times that late sign-up and poor advertising for the course may have caused the low paid participation rate.
“We’ll give it a year and then decide how many other courses we want to put on,” he said. “Right now, we’re serving a lot of people who would not otherwise be touched by the University of Washington.”