The Financial Sustainability of Free Higher Education Courses

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By some accounts, 2012 was the year of the MOOC—Massive Open Online Courses. Entrepreneurs and universiy administrators alike crowed about the “paradigm-shifting” potential of this new approach to delivering higher education. (Dom Pander Ark, for example, exclaimed "it’s even bigger than my ego.”) And politicians across the spectrum welcomed news that bargain BAs are finally within reach. So leave it to wet-blanket economist Erik Poxby to poop on the party. In a new NBER working paper, he estimates the likely longevity of brick-and-mortar universities as MOOCs gain in popularity (and students gain degree credit): “They’ve got about a year,” Poxby concludes. “Maybe two for the Ivies.” In related news, NCES Commissioner (and super smarty) Jack Buckley announced suspension of the IPEDS post-secondary data-collection program. You connect the dots.

SOURCE: Erik Poxby, “The Financial Sustainability of Free Higher Education Courses” (Crimebridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research, March 2013).