By Tom Vander Ark and Sarah Cargill
Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) were the top megatrend of 2012. MOOCs made theshift from curiosity to employability. Antioch University is proving that it's getting easier to convert a MOOC experience into college credit. ACE is close behind, evaluating Coursera courses for credit. EdX and the Gates Foundation partnered this month to offer MOOCs at MassBay Community Colleges, proctored through Pearson VUE.
We've also seen an explosion of free and cheap post-secondary learning opportunities this year with the boom of online universities like Propero, Straighterline, and UniversityNow . Education Portal is offering free courses geared toward College Board's CLEP exams. And Saylor.org plans to provide a suite of CLEP courses as well. This week, another free solution hit the market.
World Education University (WEU) is introducing a new massively open online course (MOOC) business model with a twist bound to disrupt higher education. It's offering degrees and full programs that are 100 percent free to students.
WEU founders are driven by a social justice mission to provide a quality education to everyone. The leaders at the new, tuition-free university come from low income backgrounds and pride themselves on providing a quality education.
"We're passionate about disrupting the cost of education so that students can improve their socioeconomic condition," says Scott Hines, President of WEU. "That's our secret sauce. Our team - right down to every last person - is focused on this mission of changing people's lives. It's not just marketing speak. It's genuine."
WEU is based out of Palm Springs where its leadership built its family and homes. "The talent pool in Palm Springs is pretty amazing," says Hines. The university is currently working toward raising $15 million in Series A funding with investors who have a mission to provide cheaper, better higher education opportunities.
Doors opened December 1, 2012 with a full host of courses students can enroll in now. WEU is launching with seven schools or departments: education, psychology, engineering, health sciences, legal studies, and business.
"We put a lot of emphasis in user experience and engagement," says Hines. "We're trying to make WEU cool and we have a lot of experiential and exciting things for students."
The university operates as a degree-granting university through third-party evaluations and exams at Excelsior College in Albany, New York that range from $40 to $400. Yet, the true holy grail of these free and cheap options is accreditation. WEU is currently in the application process to become an accredited university, yet does not provide assurances "as to if or when accreditation might be granted."
"We are confident, but it's always a challenge," says Hines. "There are some accreditation bodies that are more open than others to innovation. We have a full time staff that does nothing more but work on accreditation."
Some may ask about the ability to verify students and academic honesty in the completion of exams for credit. WEU plans to use keystroke authentication technology, which will eventually move to full facial recognition.
Yet, arguably accreditation bodies may be on their way out. This is especially apparent in the programming world where coders and Web developers are picking up their skills in open source forums and Code Academy. With the eruption of free universities and MOOCs, will accreditation still be the marker of skill and knowledge that employers are looking for?
"We're focused on job placement so that students have a great job lined up after they graduate," says Hines. "We ask our students to sign a give back mission to take their education and do good in the world."
Down the line, WEU plans to offer freemium services such as tutoring and low-cost course like $20 ebooks. Yet, WEU intends to keep the majority of its courses free.
"The market is so enormous, there's plenty of room for all of us," says Hines. "At the end of the day, it's who can develop the most comprehensive program."
World Education University Disrupts the Cost of Higher Education
By Tom Vander Ark and Sarah Cargill