Amherst College Turns Down edX

Amherst College has rejected overtures to join edX after faculty members expressed reservations about the consortium’s business plan and the impact it might have on student learning. Inside Higher Education reports that the vote to reject edX proposals meant that Amherst will not be using the platform to deliver massive online open courses in the near future.

According to one faculty member who spoke about the decision, reservations ranged from the fact that massive online open courses (MOOCs) seem at odds with the college’s mission, to the perception that the consortium was looking for ways to completely reshape higher education in the U.S. and the world.

The consortium, which currently has 12 partners around the country and was started as a partnership between Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was considered a candidate for teaming with Amherst in the school’s effort to get its toes wet in online course delivery.

Prior to rejecting edX, Amherst considered and discounted working with several for-profit online education providers.

In a statement, edX said it was disappointed its courtship had ended the way it did. “We are disappointed that Amherst College will not be joining edX,” the venture said in a statement released by a spokesman. “Over the past several months we have had many productive meetings and wide-ranging discussions with Amherst’s administration and faculty. Amherst is a wonderful institution and we would have been delighted to have them join. We acknowledge that online educational platforms are not the appropriate solution for all courses or all faculty.”

Saying no to edX, however, doesn’t mean the end of Amherst’s online aspirations. Even among the faculty members who voted against the deal were those who felt that it was long past the time that the school took a step in the direction of online learning. Although the college prides itself on its small-school atmosphere and the professors are known for dedicated a lot of time to their students, some feel that turning their back entirely on digital learning was keeping the school back.

Faculty members commissioned an internal study to enumerate all the pros and cons of a partnership with edX. Although a copy was provided to InsideHigherEd, according to Ry Rivard, the college attached a request that it not be reproduced publicly.

The report talks at length about how faculty members could use edX to experiment with online content and how difficult it might be for Amherst to try to replicate edX’s expertise. The document stresses that Amherst was being invited to pay to join edX for some costs – $2 million (£1.3 million) for five years, perhaps. Amherst officials asked themselves if they could chart their own course with a similar amount of money and found the risk of failure may be greater if Amherst was on its own.