Online education: Udacity, San Jose State offer courses for college credit; Minerva Project creates non-profit

A couple of developments in online education:

• Udacity and San Jose State are teaming up for what’s believed to be a first-of-its-kind partnership to offer online-only courses offered for college credit. In an announcement on Udacity’s blog this morning, CEO Sebastian Thrun (professor at Stanford, Google Fellow of autonomous car and Google Glasses fame) said the pilot program, which will offer three math courses including a remedial algebra class, will provide “substantial services and instructor access for tuition-paying students.” Half of the spots will be open to San Jose State students — who for $150 a course will get a deal; regular university courses cost more — and the other half will be for community-college and high-school students, according to the New York Times. The Palo Alto-based Udacity, which was founded in 2011, will  continue to offer free courses that don’t count toward college credit, as other online-education startups do.

How did Udacity and San Jose State become study partners? It stemmed from a phone call by California Gov. Jerry Brown to Thrun lamenting the “crisis” that incoming college students do poorly in college placement tests or can’t meet basic requirements, according to the NYT report. As for the partnership’s possible benefits to Udacity, students will be required to complete these courses — it could help address the high dropout rates (90 percent, says the NYT) seen by those offering open online courses.

More broadly, the success of this pilot could lead the way to cheaper online classes for college credit and similar efforts.

• Meanwhile, another online education startup, the Minerva Project, on Monday announced the creation of a non-profit in an effort to recruit professors and to keep student costs down. San Francisco-based Minerva aims to be an elite online university in the same league as Harvard or Yale, but at a lower cost. CEO Ben Nelson told GMSV in an interview last year — when the startup secured $25 million in seed funding from Benchmark Capital — that he expected tuition to be under $20,000 a year. This week, Nelson told GigaOm that The Minerva Institute for Research and Scholarship will be responsible for, among other things, securing favorable loan rates. Former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey is executive chairman.

Last year, Minerva’s target opening date was 2014; the press release Monday announcing the institute says it now expects to open in 2015.


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