Can MOOC’s and Existing E-Learning Efficiency Paradigms Help Reduce College Costs?

15 Pages Posted: 18 Jun 2012

See all articles by Stephen Ruth

Stephen Ruth

George Mason University - School of Public Policy

Date Written: June 18, 2012


E-Learning enrollments in post-secondary education are growing significantly but the annual cost of tuition continues to increase more than inflation. Does this mean that E-Learning cannot reduce costs? After describing some salient details of the tuition cost problem, this article examines four paradigms that have the potential to reduce tuition significantly over the long term, perhaps by half. First, it reviews the potentially game-changing effects of free Massively Open On-line Courses (MOOC’s) and the new MIT/Harvard Ed X project. Both are very new and eventually target as many as a billion on-line students. Second, it describes the underutilized but highly scalable National Center for Academic Transformation’s NCAT) course redesign paradigm, capable of reducing aggregate administrative and teaching costs by billions annually, and examines problems associated with its wider deployment. Third, Western Governors University’s competency-based approach is presented as another way of drastically reducing labor costs while increasing availability of college courses to low income students. Finally, the export/import approach is introduced, in which MOOC’s for credit become available (at a fee) beyond the offering institutions, thereby setting up a disruptive, but potentially highly economical reduction in faculty and administrative labor expense.

Keywords: MOOC, NCAT, Ed X, WGU, Competency-Based Higher Ed, Export/Import Paradigm

JEL Classification: O33, O39

Suggested Citation

Ruth, Stephen, Can MOOC’s and Existing E-Learning Efficiency Paradigms Help Reduce College Costs? (June 18, 2012). Available at SSRN: or

Stephen Ruth (Contact Author)

George Mason University - School of Public Policy ( email )

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