Want a Harvard Education? Want to Take Classes at MIT? For Free!

This year, a Harvard education will run well over $50,000. The same is true for M.I.T. Of course, that’s if you’re able to get into those schools, which is rather like passing through the eye of a needle if you’re a camel.

If you take a Harvard course online, you will miss the chance to pose in front of the statue of John Harvard . . . a clear downside to online education.

But, if you don’t have the money to attend one of Cambridge, Massachusetts’ colleges, and you don’t have an acceptance letter in hand, you’re not out of luck. According to the New York Times: “Harvard and M.I.T. Team Up to Offer Free Online Courses.” Now that’s what I call a deal!

Unfortunately, you won’t be able to earn a Harvard or M.I.T. degree online, but if you take one of the classes and pass the tests, you will get a certificate of completion. (Can you imagine the number of hopeful high schoolers who will be loading their resumes with these certificates?! Sheesh!)

M.I.T. got a jump on Harvard, offering an online “Circuits and Electronics” course this year. They enrolled 120,000 students, 10,000 of whom made it through the first midterm exam. (I’m reminded of my logic professor in college, who, one year, failed half his class at the midterm, complaining that Harvard’s admission standards were too low.)

The Harvard and M.I.T. courses will be part of what the universities’ are calling edX. This nonprofit organization will offer five courses this fall. Both of the universities have committed $30 million to the project.

Of course, there is a potential downside in this plan. According to Tamar Lewin, who wrote the Times article, explains: “Education experts say that while the new online classes offer opportunities for students and researchers, they pose some threat to low-ranked colleges.” According to one online professor from, “But if I were president of a mid-tier university, I would be looking over my shoulder very nervously right now, because if a leading university offers a free circuits course, it becomes a real question whether other universities need to develop a circuits course.”

Lewin’s article recognizes that edX and other similar online programs will have much to learn in the future. Previous efforts have often failed. But experts are convinced that online education has great potential.

It’s interesting to consider the implications of top-quality college courses being accessible to billions of people online. I wonder how this would change the perceived value of a Harvard or an M.I.T. education. I wonder how much it might give motivated, bright people a chance they would never otherwise have.

  • http://thehighcalling.org/ Marcus Goodyear

    How to build your own search engine looks fun: http://www.udacity.com/overview/Course/cs101/CourseRev/apr2012

    I kind of feel like I should register for the Udacity course just to see if there is any overlap with where we are headed… 

    I’m also wondering how many professors are going to feel pressured to offer these courses, and whether are not there is a place for people to offer themselves as a partner to professors wanting to teach classes on, say, theology and work.

  • markdroberts

    Interesting. I’d love to get your input if you do it.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X