In 2014, the Georgia Institute of Technology first opened the doors for applicants to enroll in its already reputable master’s degree in computer science (regularly ranked in the US top ten) and be able to complete the degree completely online. It also offered it at a tuition of only $7,000, less than a sixth of the rate for the in-person degree. Despite lesser admission requirements online than in-person, and evident methodological differences (online students had access to class contents “asynchronously,” all at once), classes were “designed to mirror” one another, “graded to the same standards,” and successful completion would lead to an identical degree without distinction.
This month, a report by Education Next shares some results about the experiment, in the hopes that it sets a precedent for future, full-fledged online programs. What did the authors of the report consider important to look into? Which variables received the most attention? See if they matched with your ideas on how to measure Georgia Tech’s bold stance in online learning.
- Enrollments: More than two thousand students are admitted to the online program each year, accounting for 61% of applicants. This is double the applicants for the in-person program and 13 times the admission rate. With 1,700 starting the program each year, it makes it the world’s most popular CS master’s degree.
- Opportunity: Less than 20% of those not admitted into the online program enrolled in another program at all, whether in-person or online, suggesting a market gap. This outcome radically differs from those who were not admitted to the in-person program, many of whom did enroll into another program.
- Cannibalization: There is virtually no overlap between students in both formats. The majority of in-person students were from India, 25 years old or younger, and not employed. 80% of online students held jobs and were over 25. Less than 40 people applied to both formats.
- Dedication: The authors found no evidence that online students dedicated fewer hours to the program. Scant evidence suggests the opposite is more likely.
- Quality: Surprisingly, one of the most critical questions (if not the most critical) is not directly addressed by the report. However, they report that Georgia Tech performed “blind final grading” which revealed online students to “slightly outperform” in-person students.
- Impact: With an estimated 62% of students remaining enrolled each year until completion, the Georgia Tech online program might be responsible for more than 700 new master’s in CS, which is equivalent to a 7% increase in the US due to this program alone.
Despite the seeming success, the future of the program is not guaranteed. According to Inside Higher Ed, neither Udacity (the supporting platform) nor AT&T (the funding partner) have confirmed whether they will continue their involvement in the venture.