Students may soon get college credit for free online courses

The American Council on Education says students should be allowed to receive college credit for certain free online courses offered by top universities.

SAN FRANCISCO — Students may soon be able to receive college credit for the free online courses that are reshaping higher education.

The American Council on Education announced Thursday that it is recommending degree credit for five undergraduate courses offered by Coursera, a Palo Alto-based company that provides "massive open online courses" from leading universities.

"A rigorous evaluation of these courses showed that they meet ACE's standards for college credit recommendations," said Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, whose recommendations are used by colleges and universities to determine whether to offer credit for nontraditional courses.

Over the past year, dozens of leading universities have begun offering free, digital versions of their most popular courses, allowing tens of thousands of students to take a class at the same time. But so far, few institutions have offered degree credit for them.

Allowing students to get credit for massive open online courses, or MOOCs, could help make it easier to earn a college degree, said John Aubrey Douglass, a higher education researcher at the University of California, Berkeley.

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"As long as we can assess and ensure quality, it's providing one more way that students can receive an education at an affordable cost," Douglass said.

The American Council on Education, which represents U.S. degree-granting institutions, is recommending credit for five entry-level classes: Algebra and Pre-Calculus, from the University of California, Irvine; Introduction to Genetics and Evolution, from Duke University; Bioelectricity: A Quantitative Approach, from Duke University; and Calculus: Single Variable, from the University of Pennsylvania.

The courses themselves are free, but students seeking credit will need to pay between $100 and $190 to verify their identities and take exams monitored by webcam.

"There are many working adults today that do not have a college degree," Andrew Ng, a Stanford University researcher who co-founded Coursera, told The Associated Press. "I hope the convenience of an online class can be a first step for many of these adults to go back to school to earn their degrees."

The announcement comes less than a week after Coursera suspended an online course offered by the Georgia Institute of Technology because of technical troubles. The course, which was about how to run an online course, will be offered again at later date, Ng said.

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