Inside Higher Ed recently ran an essay called “The Bitter Reality of MOOConomics” by Carlo Salerno.

The piece begins by exploring the notion that students choose colleges because colleges provide a good education and help students obtain career goals. Writes Salerno, “They seek to earn a credential that they can successfully leverage in a labor market.” In turn, colleges are selective about which students they accept because graduates and their success are a reflection on them. “Who gets in matters a great deal to these schools,” the author explains, “because it helps them control quality and head off the adverse effects of unqualified students either dropping out or performing poorly in career positions”

It is assumed in the article that MOOC/Coursera founders from Stanford are looking to address the ills of high cost of college education by providing a new method of instruction that relies not only on instructors, but on the peer experience. MOOCs allow anyone to take a course and are not selective, so, according to Salerno, this creates a dichotomy between MOOC admission and college goals

One example used to compare MOOCs (aka Massive Open Online Courses) to a real college experience is the difference between learning from a history professor in a real college as versus watching the History Channel in order to become an expert on history —most of us just won’t do it, and it isn’t won’t hold up as a legitimate credential —even though learning can take place everywhere. Says Salerno, “There has to be a specific reason that people would be willing to spend tens of thousands of dollars and several years of their life to get it from one particular source like a college….I’m simply not going to get a job as a high-school history teacher with ‘television watching’ as the core of my resume, even if I both learned and retained far more information than I ever could have in a series of college history classes.”

Salerno goes on to say that “Stanford was perfectly in the right for clarifying that the letters of completion professors wrote on behalf of students who finished the MOOCs were NOT a certification” from the University.

The article also likens MOOCs to a rudimentary Ford Model T by stating that it is not quite yet road ready, but it is not going away, and it is revolutionary.  “Still, what our elite higher education institutions have produced in the MOOC looks and feels like one of Ford Motor Company’s futuristic concept cars – something that provides a vision for how tomorrow might look, or which includes niche features that may be built into near-term models, but in its current form is simply not road-ready.”  Even though this is a criticism, it is a significant statement.

One of the biggest questions, according to Salerno, is whether colleges can accept some prior learning-type credit or credentials without watering down or even nullifying their institutions’ quality.

Says the College of Westchester’s Mary Beth Del Balzo, LCSW, “Even though there is some concern about protection of the educational system, especially at elite colleges such as the Ivies, other colleges are positioning themselves to begin to provide post-course testing to certify that someone actually did complete courses satisfactorily.” She adds, “All articles, whether from the New York Times, Inside Higher Ed, or the hundreds of others that have already given Coursera press, have one thing in common: They all say that while not perfect, that MOOCs are not going away, that they are revolutionary, and they could eventually profoundly affect how we help students earn their degrees.”

You can read the full essay here.