Georgia Tech to Use MOOCs to Deliver Cheap Online Degree to 10,000 Computer Geeks

Georgia Tech Offers MOOCs | Geeks Working Sign EvanLovely/Flickr

I recently complained that the MOOC party animals (aka: Udacity, Coursera and Udemy) would not be the ones to help drive down the cost of a college degree.


Turns out I was wrong about that.




Georgia Tech, in partnership with Udacity, wants to offer a massive open online course-based online computer science master’s to 10,000 tech students. AT&T is underwriting the massive online degree experiment in hopes of finding more affordable ways to increase the national brain pool of computer scientists.


Estimated price of the massive online computer science degree: $7,000.


Online College Affordability – Price Check Please


There is no national shortage of online master’s in computer science and IT degrees. I track 121 of them, to be exact.


Turns out $7,000 is dirt cheap for an online master’s in computer science. My survey of 72 regionally accredited universities that offer 142 online master’s in IT and CS reveals only a couple of graduate schools offer a better deal for an online computer science master’s than the Georgia Tech MOOC option.


East Carolina University offers residents of North Carolina a master of science in technology systems/computer networking management for just over $5,000. (Others get billed $20,790.) The Dakota State university system, Minot State University, offers a deal at around $9,000 for its online master of science in information systems.


Georgia State universities are generally low in cost when compared to all online options. Columbus State University offers a master of science in applied computer science/information assurance for about $7,956. Georgia Southern University has a fully developed online master of science in computer science for $12,350, open to distance learning students nationwide.


So, yes, $7,000 puts the Georgia Tech online degree on my personal list of online learning steals and deals.


MOOCS – Not Ready for Online Degree Glory?


Most MOOCS are not courses. Most are loose collections of learning resources. They lack the instructional design, authentication procedures and assessment tools that most agree form the credible bedrock of a “college course.”


As any instructional designer will tell you, it is a rut-filled ride from a MOOC, which is a collection of learning resources—readings, videos, hangouts and optional assignments—to the creation of a full-blown college course.


I agree with Laura Gibbs at the University of Oklahoma, who has been digitally dedicated to teaching online these last 10 years: “A MOOC does not deliver teaching; it delivers online content (some static, some more dynamic, like videos with embedded quizzes) and asks the students to teach themselves.”


MOOCs could be turned into college courses. But right now they are more an educational free-for-all encompassing whatever one curious soul decides to link up online. (See Debbie Morrison’s “How Not to Design a MOOC” for some insights on the chaotic instructional state of many MOOCS.)


You can’t throw a bunch of learning resources online and call it a degree program. If so, then an encyclopedia posted online might rightly be called a doctorate degree.


A lot needs to happen to turn digital packets of informational resources into knowledge, and then to verify and transcript that the mastered knowledge relates to professional competencies.


Will This MOOC Degree Hang Together?


Right now the Georgia Tech MOOC degree is little more than a press release. And if there is one thing VC money is good at creating, it is bee-deafening buzz about the coming higher education revolution.


Also, the $7,000 sticker price is only an estimate. I imagine that number will climb a good bit higher. Maybe $10,000-$15,000. (Which would still be a steal as the real average cost for an online master’s in CS is a hair under $25,000.)


How Will MOOCS Make Money?


This could be it. The GeorgiaTech, Udacity and AT&T experiment is the largest peephole yet into how for-profit institutions—Udacity and AT&T—may marry up to develop high-demand employment credentials in the STEM, healthcare and teacher education sectors.


This is not, however, a higher education revolution. It’s more of the same old, same old that began two decades ago when money men began to see a mass market for lifelong learning and professional education.


The great Phoenix has always marketed degrees to institutions—corporations and the military—where tuition assistance is rich and plentiful.


Note that while Udacity plans to make this online degree program massive—seeking up to 10,000 students in the future—this program is reportedly only going to admit hand-picked AT&T folks while in beta.


Note also that the low-cost of this MOOC degree is being underwritten by an AT&T subsidy AND our tax support to Georgia Tech. It is our tax dollars that shore up Georgia Tech, a public institution, and all its teaching efforts.


The Georgia Tech MOOC degree: it could provide a prototype for low-cost mass STEM education OR it could be akin to a stage illusion, a way for Udacity—backed by millions in VC dollars—to mainline millions more from the public coffers.


AT&T pays to develop the degree. Georgia contributes courses, faculty, testing and transcripting. Students pay perhaps 50 percent. Udacity, in the end, nets 40 percent. I wonder about the math of that.


MOOCs and the Consumer Future of Higher Education


As much as I grumble, I love the idea of this project. Fourteen years ago, when forecasting the future of online learning, which had yet to achieve public acceptance, I predicted a time when self-education systems like MOOCs might take degree programs to task:


Consumers think that higher education costs too much and delivers too little. On the Internet, the customer pulls the strings. Offer enough people a choice of 50 virtual MBA programs, instead of two within driving distance, and see what happens. Amazonian selection will create a commercial marketplace where one failed to exist before.


On the Net, education is a process, not a place. What is learned is more important than where it’s taught. With online learning, people can get training and educate themselves, rather than waiting for faculty to write a costly, multiyear prescription.


Online learning can lead to high levels of educational access, increase educational efficacy and drastically lower college costs.


If done correctly.


Whether Georgia Tech and Udacity will do the dream right or slide off into educational chaos remains to be seen.


The number one complaint online students have now about online degree programs is the lack of engagement they feel. That problem is not to going to get better once class sizes explode to 10,000.


It is such a long, long journey from what are known as MOOCs to the credibility, engagement and credentialing that we expect from a master’s degree.


Go Yellow Jackets!


We are watching you.



2013 Get Educated®, Get Educated, Inc.

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About Vicky Phillips

Vicky Phillips was cited in 2009 by US News & World Report as "for 20 years the leading consumer advocate for online college students." In 1989 she designed America's first online counseling center for distance learners on AOL. In 1998 she authored the first print guide to online graduate degrees - Best Distance Learning Graduate Schools put out by the Princeton Review. In 2001 she authored Never Too Late to Learn the Adult Student's Guide to College. She oversees the best online college rankings and reviews for
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7 Responses to Georgia Tech to Use MOOCs to Deliver Cheap Online Degree to 10,000 Computer Geeks

  1. Zoe Bogart says:

    My son is wanting to go back to school and further his education in the Technology fields. Thanks for sharing this information and I will share this with him as well.

  2. pallavi says:

    In the past decade, online education has significantly increased in popularity among students of all ages. This is mainly because taking courses at online schools and universities offers clear benefits over taking courses at conventional educational facilities. In my opinion here are some of the top benefits of online education and MOOCs that are making courses like this very popular.

    1. First off, students are given the opportunity to choose from various schools, programs and courses which are not available in the area where they live in. This is especially beneficial for those who live in rural areas that only have one or two educational facilities, which most of the time, offer limited course and program options for students.

    2. Another benefit of taking online courses, and probably the most popular one, would be that it offers flexibility to students. Because they can attend classes and courses whenever and wherever there is a computer and access to the internet, they can easily plan out a schedule that would work for them. Because of the flexibility offered by online learning, not only undergraduate students, but also individuals who already have full-time jobs or other commitments are able to take supplementary courses and even earn their college degrees online.

    Thanks for the post – Pallavi

  3. Hi Vicky,
    It will be interesting to see how Georgia Tech’s degree unfolds. Though I too see this as an innovative and even exciting development in online education, I worry about the quality for the students. Thousands of students learning together on one hand sounds as if it could be a collaborative and interactive experience, yet as you mention, such learning experiences can be isolating, lonely and ineffective for online students. Course design is one factor that can help create a meaningful learning experience. We will see how it unfolds. I too am looking forward to watching it do so. Thanks for the mention and the post! Debbie

    • Hi Debbie,

      I agree that quality control is going to be a rough road. Even with courses that are well-designed with optimal peer to peer interaction and faculty mentoring it is, as you, difficult to keep students engaged and moving through the content. I worry mostly about the motivational aspect because online students, are, as you say, more isolated and in need of a structure that keeps them on track. Your own blog post about the chaos on Coursera was a great and important piece. Some many do not realize that the vast majority of MOOCs are not “courses” in that they lack integrated design, assessment, motivational cue structures and feedback systems.

      On the bright side, I do think it is possible to build a solid online course structure for STEM subjects provided it is tied to valid competency levels and has a system for human interaction and motivation. This is a great “test” project and we’ll see if Udacity itself even remains a viable company long enough to provide the incubator.

      Thanks for your work and insights on MOOC development and design.

      Vicky Phillips

  4. Pingback: Georgia Tech to Use MOOCs to Deliver Cheap Onli...

  5. Dwight says:

    Georgia Tech is the Yellow Jackets. UGA are the bulldogs.

    • Hi Dwight,

      Thanks for the note. We’ve changed the posting. Go Yellow Jackets!
      Are you a student or faculty member at Georgia Tech? What do you think of the MOOC degree they are about to offer?


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