Over at Inside Higher Ed, Paul Fain reports that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is funding $3 million in new MOOC-related grants. The idea is that MOOCs with credit attached can replace gen ed courses, thus rendering efficiencies in granting degrees.
Well, maybe, if you leave aside the quality of the education, which seems to be a complete non-issue with those promoting MOOCs, and if you don't think about the other functions of the university. I'm thinking of the economics of the whole thing.
Think about the Affordable Care Act. The reason given for mandatory signup is that if signing up for health care is voluntary, only the very sickest will sign up for care; healthy people will avoid signing up until they are sick. That's the principle behind all forms of insurance. The risk and costs are spread across a large population to improve affordability.
Now think about a community college or university with high-cost programs like lab sciences, engineering, or nursing courses--any courses that require intensive training and expensive equipment. Right now, the gen ed courses help to support those courses. Take away the gen ed courses and the other kinds of support that they provide for the university and leave behind the expensive hands-on lab courses--in Obamacare terms, exempt the healthy people and permit the most expensive patients to join the plan when they feel like it. How much will tuition, and financial aid, have to rise to cover the costs imposed by the missing gen ed revenue?
I would like to see some analyses that take this into account, but first someone will have to brush away all the confetti made of dollar bills being thrown at MOOCs and look seriously at the implications these proposals.
[Edited to add: Another of my posts on this issue; a post at edwired that does consult the experts.]