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College Planning

Free Online Courses Could Soon Bring College Credit

Online Entrepreneur

Students participating in online course offerings across the country may soon have the option to receive college credit for their work.

The American Council on Education (ACE) announced Thursday that it will begin recommending college credits for students completing five online classes via Coursera, which offers free online classes from leading American colleges and universities for students of all ages.

These massive open online courses (MOOC) have become increasingly popular in recent years, but completion just meant more skills and experience, not credit. Under the proposal, students who wish to receive credit will need to shell out between $100 and $190 to take exams monitored by webcam and verify their identities.

Cathy Sandeen, ACE vice president for Education Attainment and Innovation, says giving credit for online courses will help blend these courses into the secondary education system. Many of the students enrolled in courses from Coursera, for example, do so for personal enrichment and may not be interested in obtaining credit.

“A lot of the segment will continue that way,” Sandeen says. “This is just our pilot with five courses, and we can only recommend credit be given.”

The courses ACE is recommending for credits are all entry-level and include algebra and pre-calculus from the University of California, Irvine; introduction to genetics and evolution from Duke University; and bioelectricity from Duke University.

ACE has been given credit recommendations since the 1970s, according to Sandeen, for military courses and corporate training offerings. University faculty conduct the actual credit reviews and decide whether to issue college credits or not to students who have completed proctored exams. ACE has a network of 2,000 colleges and universities that currently consider its credit transcripts, Sandeen says.

Other similar free online courses are offered by Udacity, which started out as a Stanford University experiment, and edX, a nonprofit created by Harvard and MIT. ACE is currently reviewing four Audacity courses for potential credit transcripts.

“These courses are offered from some of the top universities in the U.S., so people already consider them to be high quality,” she says. “This is a mechanism to see if students can take this achievement and apply it further in the post-secondary environment.”

Sandeen says it’s still early to tell how offering credit for free online courses will impact the cost of college. “To the extent a student can enter a degree program with any credits completed, that reduces the amount of classes and time spent at the institution,” she said. “This is part of that practice.”

Follow Kate Rogers on Twitter at @KateRogersNews

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