Krache, D. (2012) Leading colleges announce, for-credit online courses Schools of Thought, CNN News, November 16

Using a common portal called Semester Online, 10 leading U.S. universities have announced they will offer credit courses online. The ten universities are:

  • Brandeis University,
  • Duke University,
  • Emory University,
  • Northwestern University,
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,
  • University of Notre Dame,
  • University of Rochester,
  • Vanderbilt University,
  • Wake Forest University
  • Washington University in St. Louis.

The faculty and course materials offered in Semester Online will be the same as those used in the traditional college classes. The first pilot courses will start in Spring of 2013.

The consortium is partnering with 2U, formerly 2tor, for the technology and platform necessary to create the online learning experience.

The Semester Online web site states: Semester Online is the first-of-its-kind program to offer rigorous, online, for-credit undergraduate courses through a consortium of top-tier colleges and universities.


First, this list certainly contains some high quality institutions, and it makes a lot of sense to provide a common platform or one-stop-shopping for students, but the announcement (and the web site) leaves a lot of questions unanswered:

  • will students be able to transfer credits between institutions? Not too clear yet from the FAQ, but it looks like it. This certainly needs to be clarified though.
  • will students be able to complete a full program fully online? No: students will be able to take courses for-credit but they will not be able to earn a full Bachelor’s degree.
  • many of these institutions already offer credit courses online; so what’s so special about this initiative, other than sharing a portal?
  • will the existing courses have to switch to the 2U technology or is this only for new online courses?

Such a consortium may be the first of a kind in the USA (although I doubt that) but it certainly isn’t a first internationally. The Canadian Virtual University is a consortium of nine Canadian universities that has been offering online and distance education courses and joint programs for over 10 years. The CVU does offer both credit transfer between institutions and complete programs.

Even more dramatically, Open Universities Australia is a consortium of over 20 universities that offers complete degree programs online, and operates on a fully cost recoverable basis, and indeed makes a profit for the partner institutions. It has been operating since 1993 and has served over 200,000 students since then.

There are many useful lessons to be learned from the development of previous consortia, and in particular critical factors that determine success or failure. Claiming to be first suggests someone hasn’t done their homework.

Nevertheless, it does make sense to pool resources, so long as it is done in a coherent and meaningful way for students, and not just as a PR exercise.

For another spin on this development see:

Empson, R. (2012) 2U One-ups MOOCs, Coursera, Now Offers Online Undergrad Courses from Top Schools for Credit, Tech Crunch, November 15

Kolowich, S. (2012) Elite online courses for cash and credit Inside Higher Education, November 16


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