Last year the heavyweights of American higher education embraced Massive Open Online Courses, the Internet-based, usually-free interactive classes that many feel could soon transform college.
Led by schools including Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University, MOOCS, as the online courses are known, vaulted from obscurity into the next big thing as institutions raced to join powerful consortiums beaming content around the world.
In the first quarter of this year, more than 2 million people were registered with one leading MOOC consortium, Coursera, alone.
Expensive and complicated to make, MOOCs have so far been the exclusive domain of the large institutions with the resources and reputations to attract students from around the world.
In Rhode Island, the lone entrant into MOOCS has, unsurprisingly, been Brown University, which joined Coursera last year and has created three MOOCs burnishing the school’s brand with thousands of users already.
It’s still murky, however, whether any of the state’s smaller colleges and universities will ever venture into MOOCS or, if not, how the growing prominence of online learning will affect their standing in the education market.
In a report released this summer, ratings agency Moody’s predicted that the expansion of MOOCs globally would be a financial boon to universities on the whole, especially the large institutions now able to access a much larger market than they can with traditional classes.
But Moody’s said MOOCs could ultimately accelerate “stratification” of the higher-education market and be “credit negative” for smaller colleges that don’t have the money or reputation to compete online nationally or internationally.
“Many smaller colleges will not have the brand name or star faculty to join a network or attract students,” the Moody’s report said. “As MOOCs transition to a more fully developed platform, with free and revenue-generating components, negative credit implications will begin to materialize for many small colleges that have historically attracted students based on proximity or price.”