Can MOOCs Be a Solution to the US Student Debt Crisis?

Student debt has the potential to be paralyzing — both for students and for the nation as a whole. Can technology provide a solution?

Through online courses, students are more able to significantly reduce the cost of college, which in turn could lead to an end to the student debt crisis. Top universities such as Yale and MIT offer courses that can give the student an education which is little different than what they would receive if they attended the courses on campus.

On Daily Finance, Amanda Alix of The Motley Fool writes that the internet allows for the best college professors to have global audiences through live video sessions that allow interactivity. Technology is so much cheaper and more widely available now that almost everyone has an internet connection, meaning that one could be living on a farm in the middle of nowhere and still receive mentoring from a reputable college professor.

As college attendees continue to rack up record levels of student loan debt, any innovation that promises to cut college costs is welcome. Thanks to the increasing popularity of Massive Open Online Courses, which offer global audiences course lectures and assignments over the Internet, the above scenario is moving closer to reality.

Online courses have been around for a while, but MOOC — Massive Open Online Courses — were only introduced in the last couple of years. As the name suggests, they are available to anyone with access to a computer and they usually free. The problem with online courses — and what the online education sector is currently struggling to deal with — is that they are expensive to make and administer because teachers still need to be trained to teach online students and high-quality videos must be made and distributed.

But the other major problem with MOOCs is the lack of accreditation from educational authorities — they rarely count as credits toward a degree. Furthermore, the dropout rate for MOOCs hovers around 90%, which is a clear indication that the courses are not yet designed optimally.

The good thing is that many universities and schools are giving MOOC’s a lot of attention, which should lead to greater investment and boosting the quality of courses.

With MOOCs getting a lot more attention, the idea of treating them more as for-credit, matriculating courses is catching on. The University of Maryland is now taking a look at bestowing transfer credit to those who are able to demonstrate a specific level of knowledge after completing a MOOC.

Technology giant Google has shown an interest in online education by partnering with edX to construct a massive open source educational platform. The name of the project is Open edX, and if it shows any signs of success, we can assume that Google will make a serious investment to develop the technology even further.

Whether MOOCs become an integral part of higher education remains to be seen, and much will depend upon the success of Georgia Tech’s new offering. If the degree program performs well, the model will likely be duplicated very quickly — good news for students, who will stand a better chance of beginning their working lives free of crippling student loan debt.

If a time comes when Google begins to spearhead the progress of online education, then the students of the future likely have something to look forward to.