Less than two years after Princeton joined Coursera, a for-profit consortium that offers free online classes, a faculty committee is recommending that the University consider partnering with a not-for-profit alternative.
“Some members of the faculty have expressed to us that they were uneasy about having as their only option a for-profit company” whose commercial concerns may be inimical to Princeton’s mission, said philosophy professor Gideon Rosen, who served as chair of the committee. The partnership with Coursera is not exclusive, he pointed out.
President Eisgruber ’83 has said Princeton is not seeking to make money from its involvement with Coursera, but to improve teaching and reach people worldwide. The committee also raised the idea of Princeton creating its own platform for hosting online courses. “I must say that developing our own proprietary platform gives me nightmares along the lines of healthcare.gov,” said Eisgruber, who left Coursera’s advisory board Jan. 1 to focus on his presidency. The University offered nine Coursera courses in the first year and a similar number this year, on subjects ranging from computer science to world history.
In a report, the committee said it is hard to know what role online courses will play in higher education in the future, and “it would be premature to devote substantial additional resources to this effort.” The committee also suggested a pilot program to offer certificates of accomplishment for completion of courses, though these would be letters signed by the instructor that do not bear Princeton’s name or logo. Unlike students taking online courses offered by most other universities, students in Princeton’s courses receive no certificate.
The committee’s recommendations may lead to action by the faculty or the trustees down the road, according to Eisgruber.