Published on 2013/06/24

Justifying the Cost of Higher Education: Why I Took a MOOC

Justifying the Cost of Higher Education: Why I Took a MOOC
MOOCs allow students the opportunity to learn the material they need to advance their careers without forcing them to conform to the mold of a given institution.

I recently wrote an article about my rationale for choosing to complete a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) and how I felt it could benefit my effort of lifelong learning. I’ve now completed a MOOC through edX — a Harvard University course called “Justice” — which I felt would closely relate to an area I have great passion for, Corporate Social Responsibility.

I chose to complete a MOOC for several reasons. First, there is the cost factor. A MOOC has no cost other than my time. Second, a MOOC offers a lot of flexibility compared to a traditional classroom setting in terms of how I choose to complete the work. I can do it when I want and as frequently as I choose. This is a huge benefit to choosing this learning format. Third, MOOCs offer a variety of choice in terms of content, allowing me to ensure that when I invest my hard-earned money into a college or university program, it is the right program for me.

In evaluating the cost of a university degree, I keep coming back to one simple question: is the cost worth it? Is the potential return on investment of a university degree something I will be able to reclaim over the course of my career? I have several friends with university degrees who graduated without any practical experience and, in turn, were offered no job opportunities out of school.

I also have many friends who have more formal education than I do, but who make less money. Now, this seems to defy the logic of what a university education is supposed to allow us to accomplish. Isn’t one of the main reasons we tell our youth to pursue a university education because of the greater earnings potential? Of course, over time, this has the opportunity to change, but I’ve been able to make it to this point through high performance and on-the-job learning (another example of lifelong learning not tied to formal education). Is it that far of a stretch to suggest practical college programs combined with on-the-job experience actually offer the learner more value than a degree program?

For me, it came down to theory versus practicality. I could practically apply what I learned in college the day I walked onto the job. This is not to say I do not see the value in a university education. As you climb the corporate ladder, the theoretical knowledge provided by a designation like an MBA has great value, but for someone who learns through practical experience, I question the value an MBA program would offer someone with my learning style, at this point in my career.

If I can learn the theory from taking MOOCs and apply what I’ve learned through experience, I see no reason why I cannot continue this cycle with programs relevant at the various stages in my career. Then, as I move into more senior positions where I need to further augment my experience with the theory and knowledge provided by a program like an MBA, I have that option. Many MBA programs already offer admission to experienced professionals. Based on this, I believe higher education is becoming a commodity, and as education is something that should be available to all, there need to be alternative ways for people to learn in a style that suits them, at minimal to no cost. This will help separate the people who see the value in learning from the people who are simply looking for a designation. In essence, I believe it will allow people with true passion for what they do to shine.

I mentioned in a previous post that many of the successful entrepreneurs of our generation did not conform to traditional higher education practices. If education places students into a box and says, “If you don’t meet these requirements, you’re not welcome here,” does that not limit the potential of those students?

Everybody learns and finds success in his or her own way. If today’s higher education institutions continue to place walls around what is expected of a student’s learning style, they risk undermining their core values by limiting the potential of bright, young minds MOOCs and other forms of non-traditional education have the ability to drastically improve the basic levels of education in our world, and the power of these programs should not be underestimated.

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Readers Comments

Tyrese Banner 2013/06/24 at 8:43 am

From my seat as an academic advisor, I see so many students pushing their way through degree programs for all the wrong reasons.

If you’re looking to grow, and looking to gain knowledge you can put toward your career, education is -always- the answer. But a degree might not be the best path.

I think the caveat to this piece, though, is certificates of completion and certifications. Students should always recieve some kind of documentation they can use to prove they got the knowledge they claim to have.

This is something MOOC providers should seriously look at as a way to generate “return business” – if students cannot display their knowledge, employers may not believe they have it.

    Rhonda White 2013/06/24 at 11:09 am

    Look, I see where you’re coming from. However, this is the entire problem with the traditional approach to education.

    Having a piece of paper, or not, shouldn’t dictate whether or not an individual knows something. We’re putting so much work into creating these learning portfolios and things of that nature to try and formalize the naturally informal world of learning. However, the credentialers will always be steps behind the ways students actually learn.

    Cody McGee 2013/06/26 at 3:46 pm

    Hi Tyrese,

    Thanks for your comment. I do think there is room to further leverage the potential of MOOC’s. For the one that I took, they do offer certificates of completion (I believe it’s about $75) to students who completed the course. This is something that demonstrates that the student has functionally understood the content taught within the MOOC.

    I think the opportunity here lies with MOOC’s being considered towards course exemptions (either full or partial). MOOC’s address a segment of learners that a lot of traditional education programs cannot, therefore the knowledge they teach should be considered when a student is applying to an accredited program.

Daniele Thomas 2013/06/24 at 3:56 pm

To go a completely different direction from the discussion happening above, I think it’s exciting that so many MBA programs are basing admissions on competency and experience rather than academic history.

My academic history says nothing about me today, nor does it in any way signal my competencies or abilities. Simply, it tells employers what interested me when I was in my 20s.

I don’t think any other element of our adolescence is given as much attention as what subject our degrees are in. What a useless base on which to judge people.

    Cody McGee 2013/06/26 at 3:32 pm

    Hi Daniele,

    Thank you for engaging in the discussion! I completely agree with you – many of my past colleagues have begun pursuing an MBA, and their admission was based on experience, not their formal education. From my perspective, I’ve learned far more through practical experience, and theoretical education has been something that has rounded out that experience, not led it.

    I can’t say this would apply to every person seeking higher education, but for individuals with learning styles similar to mine, I think this is an approach that will offer a solid ROI.

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