Anyone who cares about America's shortage of computer-science experts should cheer the recent news out of Georgia Tech. The Atlanta university is making major waves in business and higher education with its May 14 announcement that the college will offer the first online master's degree in computer science—and that the degree can be had for a quarter of the cost of a typical on-campus degree. Many other universities are experimenting with open online courses, or MOOCs, but Georgia Tech's move raises the bar significantly by offering full credit in a graduate program.
It comes just in time. A shortfall of computer-science graduates is a constant refrain in Silicon Valley, and by 2020 some one million high-tech job openings will remain unfilled, according to the Commerce Department.
That's why Georgia Tech's online degree, powered by Udacity, is such a game-changer. For the same $7,000 a year that New York City spends per student on school buses, you can now get a master's from one of the most well-respected programs in the country. Moore's Law says these fees should drop to $1,000 by 2020—a boon for students and for the economy.
Sadly, MOOCs are not without controversy. Consider what happened at San Jose State after the university last fall ran a test course in electrical engineering paid for by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Students who worked with online content passed at a higher rate than classroom-only students, 91% to 60%. The course was so successful that the school's president decided to expand online courses, including humanities, which will also be rolled out to other California State universities.
You'd think professors would welcome these positive changes for students. Some teachers across the country are, however cautiously, embracing the MOOC model. But plenty of professors smell a threat to their livelihood. In an April 29 open letter to the university, San Jose State philosophy professors wrote: "Let's not kid ourselves; administrators at the CSU are beginning a process of replacing faculty with cheap online education."
In April, an Amherst faculty committee decided against online courses, since they apparently run afoul of the school's mission of "learning through close colloquy." As it happens, Amherst professors rank seventh in salary of top liberal arts colleges, pulling in $137,700.