Title

Will Open Online Education Disrupt the Master's Admissions Funnel?

7 hypotheses.

December 5, 2017
 
 

One question that I’m trying to get my head around while attending the 2017 edX Global Forum is if open online education is set to disrupt the master’s admission funnel?

The example that everyone is talking about at this conference is MIT’s Supply Chain Management degree.  

According to IHE, 200,000 learners signed up for the courses initial run of courses  in the Supply Chain Management sequence. Of those, 9,000 completed a course and earned a certificate, and 1,100 learners completed all five of the open online courses. Of these, 800 took a comprehensive exam, and 622 passed.

The cost of attending all 5 open online courses and receiving a MicroMasters credential, plus sitting for the Supply Chain Comprehensive Virtual Exam, is $1,350.  If you receive the MicroMaster then you can apply to enroll in a Supply Chain Management Masters program at MIT (and at some other schools).

Of those who finished the MicroMasters, 130 applied for admission to residential Supply Chain Management Masters degree program at MIT.  Due to space limitations, MIT was only able to accept 40 of these applicants.

The amazing deal for Supply Chain Management students who matriculate into the residential program at MIT is that they are able to complete the degree in half the normal time. Rather than 10 months (August to May), they can get their degree in 5 months (January to May). This also means that the cost of receiving the blended Supply Chain Management Masters degree will be cheaper, costing a little more than half the tuition of the traditional full-year residential costs ($65,446).

What should the experience of MIT’s Supply Chain Management tell us?

We are in early days of the MicroMaster as a funnel into graduate programs.  It is not clear if MIT is an outlier.  The Supply Chain Management Masters is a hot degree.

Would a MicroMasters funnel work as well in other professional master’s programs?  I have 7 hypotheses:

Hypothesis #1 - MicroMasters Programs Will Be Concentrated in Specialized Master’s Programs:  A MicroMaster is not right for all graduate programs.  The most highly ranked MBA programs offer an experiential learning opportunity (and a chance to network) that is of such quality that cutting down on the time allotted to this experience probably does not make sense.  For skills-based master’s programs, however, shortening the time to completion (and making the cost less) makes good sense for students.

Hypothesis #2 - Student Quality Will Improve:  Performance in open online courses is a much better signal of student quality, and a predictor of program success, than undergraduate GPA or test scores.  The students who have the perseverance to successfully complete an a series of open online courses (and pass an exam) will be the one’s who are likely to do well in a traditional master’s program.

Hypothesis #3 - Admissions Committees Will Be Able to Make Better Choices:  Admissions committees can make more informed choices about who to admit, as the open online courses can provide robust and granular data on learner strengths and weaknesses.  This should lead to higher quality applicants, and perhaps a more diverse pool of learners whose positive attributes are not so apparent in standardized tests.

Hypothesis #4 - There Will Be Strong Student Demand:  A master's is the new bachelor's.  A master’s degree is basically a requirement for advancement (and increasingly entry) into most professions.  Any system that can shorten the time required to receive a graduate degree, while also significantly cutting costs, will prove to be extremely attractive to large numbers of potential applicants.

Hypothesis #5 - MicroMasters Will Improve the Quality of Residential (and Online) Master’s Programs:  It makes sense to me for specialized programs that the foundational coursework can be completed in an open online course.  This will leave schools the opportunity to focus their energy on the more advanced courses.  These courses should be centered around institutional/school/program strengths.  It is in the advanced courses that schools and programs can differentiate themselves in a completive market for high quality master’s students.   These advanced courses can stress faculty / learner interaction, mentoring, and coaching.

Hypothesis #6 - Open Online Education (and MicroMasters) Will Diminish the Dependency on Traditional Marketing: Schools and programs spend an enormous amount of money to develop qualified applicants.  These marketing dollars have been moving to Google AdWords and other online platforms.  Wouldn’t it be better to use these marketing dollars to create open online courses that all lifelong learners could participate?  This seems to be much more aligned with the mission of higher education than giving more money to Google.

Hypothesis #7 - Your School / Program Will Start Looking at Open Online Learning in Terms of Recruitment and Admissions:  I think that MicroMasters may be one of those once in a generation ideas that fundamentally changes how we do things in higher education.  I’m not sure that our larger community has absorbed just how much open online education could change the recruitment and admissions games for specialized master’s programs.  I predict that every school with such a program will at least try to understand this opportunity.

What hypotheses do you have about the relationship between open online learning and the recruitment / admissions process for specialized master’s programs?

Do you think that the MicroMasters concept will end up being as big of a deal as think it will?

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