CU Boulder to offer online engineering master’s in 2020

Unique program will allow students to complete program from anywhere, any time

BOULDER, CO – APRIL 17, 2019: University of Colorado juniors Rachel Rockenfeller, left, Anna Nuggehalli and Ngozi Nwankwo work together on classwork on their laptops inside the CU Engineering Center building on Wednesday in Boulder. (Photo by Jeremy Papasso/Staff Photographer)

The University of Colorado Boulder College of Engineering and Applied Sciences in 2020 is expected to offer a new, one-of-its-kind master’s degree program online as part of its efforts to expand its reach.

“A large number of the initiatives that we’re taking here are about expanding our reach, growing our access to people all across the state, all across the nation – actually all across the world,” said Dean Bobby Braun. “As the flagship engineering college in our state, we believe it’s our responsibility to be open and accessible to all kinds of people, no matter where they are.”

Students will now be able to earn an electrical engineering master’s degree through a globally scalable Massive Open Online Course, or MOOC. The program will cost $20,000, making it an affordable option to a brick-and-mortar program that would generally cost about double.

Coursera, an online learning platform, will host the degree. CU Boulder has worked with Coursera since 2013 on various courses, but this will be the first MOOC-based degree program with the platform, Braun said. The university denied a Colorado Open Records Act request for the amount Coursera would receive from the tuition price, saying it is privileged information.

Electrical engineering faculty have created the content. Students also will receive graduate advisors, course facilitators and proctored exams.

The MOOC-based approach is different from other online learning or distance learning opportunities because students can download the information at any time and learn at their own pace. The program is set up in modules that contain lab tasks as well as lectures. Students will learn via video, discussion forums and interactive webpages, and also take exams online.

“It’s actually better-suited, I think, to people who are working, people in services, people in other time zones,” he said.

Coursera CEO Jeff Maggioncalda in a news release said the degree will help “remove many of the traditional barriers to getting a high-quality master’s degree.

“By making MOOCs the foundation of the degree program, we are able to reach people who would have never been able to quit their jobs and move their families to (earn) the same degree on campus,” Maggioncalda said.

CU Boulder is able to keep the costs down as well, because tuition is set according to projections for interest, Braun said. With the large number of students it expects to reach through Coursera, he said CU was able to reduce the costs.

Braun said providing this opportunity is important because there are many potential students worldwide who can’t come to the campus full time for one reason or another.

“Young people these days are expecting, quite frankly, this kind of approach,” he added.

This program is a pilot, which Braun hopes leads to further “disruption in university-based education,” because physical campuses “can only house so many people.”

The engineering school also is looking at offering an interdisciplinary master’s degree in data science through the MOOC platform.

“There’s a fundamental shift happening in higher education. This degree program is an example of that shift,” Braun said. “The fact that CU Boulder is leaning forward and providing the first engineering master’s program in a MOOC-based format, it kinda fits with the innovative nature of this college and of this campus.”

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