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MOOCs Are Going to Make College Even More Expensive

Many massive open online courses serve as giant, viral marketing campaigns for universities looking to find even more potential students.
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The Hunt Library at Carnegie Mellon University is the largest library on the Pittsburgh campus. (Photo: Public Domain)

The Hunt Library at Carnegie Mellon University is the largest library on the Pittsburgh campus. (Photo: Public Domain)

A flat world exacerbates income equality. The flows of money, people, and ideas across international borders cause wealth to agglomerate in a few places. How free massive open online courses (MOOCs) will drive up the price of higher education:

But one overlooked benefit of online learning has been to help universities find a new generation of talented students – and perhaps, along the way, society's next Steve Jobs, Maya Angelou, or Yo-Yo Ma. Battushig, Amol, and Taha used MOOCs to connect them to intellectual communities that have matched their ambition with opportunities they wouldn't have otherwise had.

If innovation in its many forms is the currency of the future, could MOOCs emerge as a tool for finding the unknown geniuses of tomorrow? That's what universities from Harvard to Duke to MIT to the Berklee College of Music in Boston believe. They are rushing to use online courses as a way not just to bring education to vast numbers of people who normally wouldn't have access, but also to use them as a way to conduct a global talent search. It's like "American Idol" for the Einstein set.

Piotr Mitros, chief scientist at edX, the MOOC platform created by MIT and Harvard to dispense learning online, notes that 5 billion people around the world lack access to a decent education. Among them, he says, "are millions who are brilliant and don't have an opportunity to do anything with that." Twenty years ago, he adds, there was no way to tap and teach these students. "Now we have the means to do it."

MOOCs are supposed to pop the higher education bubble. Why buy the cow if you get the milk for free? Millions of aspiring scientists will forgo sky-high tuition and learn everything online from a superstar professor.

Differential calculus expertise resides in many places. However, few places have a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) or a University of Pennsylvania (Penn). Which universities have brand recognition among the world's booming middle class?

MOOCs are massive online marketing campaigns celebrating the winners of the emerging Legacy Economy. An MIT or a Penn can afford to troll the world for a talent diamond in the Mongolian rough. An MIT or a Penn has stature in the Mongolian rough. Most universities do not.

Via MOOCs, international students will beat down the doors of Cambridge, Massachusetts. The most precious talent demographic will self-select themselves for an Ivy League education that might be no better than a degree from Youngstown State University. Tuition be damned. The world wants Carnegie Mellon University.