Panel Paper: The Transformative Impact of MOOCs on Graduate STEM Education: Georgia Tech's New Online Master's Degree Program in Computer Science

Friday, November 7, 2014 : 9:30 AM
Galisteo (Convention Center)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Joshua Goodman1, Amanda Pallais1 and Julia Melkers2, (1)Harvard University, (2)Georgia Institute of Technology
Massive open online courses (MOOCs) have the potential to transform higher education and STEM education in particular, in part by opening participation to a wider set of students than currently pursue such pathways. We have, however, little rigorous evidence on the impacts of current programs. Most existing STEM courses or degree programs offered online either are too low quality to be considered valid substitutes for traditional coursework or are too high cost to substantially increase access to financially constrained students. We study the first program that is both high quality and low cost.

Georgia Tech’s computer science department, considered one of the top 10 in the nation, announced last year that it would offer a fully online version of its master’s degree for one-seventh of the cost that out-of-state students pay for its traditional degree ($7,000 vs. $45,000). This Online Master's Degree in Computer Science (OMSCS) is intended to certify students as having the same set of skills as any graduate of the traditional program. Georgia Tech is thus investing substantial time, effort and money to ensure that the program's quality matches the institution's current reputation.

We match data on applicants to Georgia Tech's online and traditional programs to National Student Clearinghouse data and our own surveys of applicants. We answer two primary questions. First, what type of students are interested in pursuing the online degree? In other words, who generates the market demand for such products? Second, how does admission to the program alter students' educational and career trajectories? In other words, what does OMS CS substitute for in the short run, other degree programs or continuing employment? 

The first question is a purely descriptive exercise. The second can be causally identified by exploiting the fact that OMS CS used a strict GPA cutoff in its first year of admissions because of capacity constraints that neither students nor administrators could perfectly predict ahead of time. Our hope is that this analysis illuminates more about the potential for low-cost graduate STEM education to change how many and which types of students pursue advanced STEM degrees.