Research Analyzes Scalable Degree Landscape

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When the Online Master of Science Computer Science (OMSCS) started in 2014, it was touted as one of the first affordable degrees at scale with many following. Yet, new Georgia Tech research suggests that affordable degrees at scale may have more similarities to traditional online programs than differences.

OMSCS researchers set out to determine how these degrees, known as large internet-mediated asynchronous degrees, compared to online degrees from traditional institutions. They collected data on tuition, admission standards, curriculum, and assessments to evaluate students from 61 massive open online course (MOOC) programs.

“It’s one of our first attempts at understanding what affordable and scalable degrees are available,” said OMSCS alumnus David Park.

Their findings are that MOOC-based programs are providing a valued education without compromising quality. They also found traditional online programs offered at similar price points.

MOOC Observations 

Although distance learning has always been a feature of higher education, the MOOC model promised affordable education at scale. Yet researchers learned many programs from MOOCS to traditional universities with online degrees also offer competitive pricing.

There were additional observations when researchers looked at how each program operates. Many used MOOC platforms, such as Udacity or Coursera, in conjunction with more traditional management systems for grading and assignment submission. This suggests the MOOC platform isn’t entirely necessary for education at scale.

Program data is also not as accessible as the MOOC format suggests. The researchers had difficulty finding data they needed, such as course syllabi, the number of teaching assistants, and how academic integrity is maintained. According to the research, this may be because programs are just starting and still developing syllabi.

“There’s a disparity of information out there,” said OMSCS student Robert Schmidt. “We had a difficult time getting information we needed, as we  researched public information as well as made multiple contacts to universities.”

Program requirements and structure were also not universal. Many programs have variable admissions standards to make them more attractive for nontraditional students, such as waiving GRE requirements.

“As we have a growing number of MOOC-based programs, the question we should be asking as researchers is how we can ensure the quality of the program going forward,” Park said.

The researchers believe this area is ripe for further research as more programs come online.

“There’s so much in this field left to research,” Schmidt said. “We’re at the beginning of this evolution.”

The researchers present their work, Affordable Degrees at Scale: New Phenomenon or New Hype?, at Learning @ Scale in August. Park and Schmidt wrote the paper with OMSCS alumni Charankumar Akiri and Stephanie Kwak, and OMSCS Executive Director David Joyner.

Contact: 

Tess Malone, Communications Officer

tess.malone@cc.gatech.edu