Education Without Limits

I know first-hand the value of education. It changed the trajectory of my life. Access to high-quality, affordable education was the game changer for me.

I was reminded of this fact again recently, when I had the opportunity to hear two great minds in education, Dr. Zvi Galil and Sebastian Thrun, discuss a real-world solution that has dramatically lowered the cost of higher education.

Their work delivered a price and quality breakthrough using the Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs format – to create an online masters of science in computer science (OMCSC) accredited by the internationally respected Georgia Tech University for only $6,600.

The tuition is remarkably impressive when you compare it to the $40,000 out-of-state tuition of a typical masters of science in computer science at a public university and the $70,000 at a private university.

I am humbled to have been a part of AT&T’s executive leadership team that greenlit the seed capital for the development of OMSCS in the early days.

According to Dr. Galil, the prevailing admissions rates at leading higher learning institutions are estimated to be well below 5% – a key barrier to entry right off the bat. MOOCs have an unlimited capacity to teach students online, with coursework available from anywhere, at any time, straight from the cloud. This gave OMSCS the capacity to accept 100% of qualified candidates who apply and the capability to produce acceptance rates topping 70%.

This fundamental shift in higher education admissions rates, I believe, is revolutionary.

With graduation season upon us, I know that my good friend Dr. Galil, Sebastian Thrun, and the teams at Udacity and AT&T will be extremely proud—as will I— when the 5,000th graduate earns his or her degree from Georgia Tech this month.

I’m excited knowing that next year over 12,000 students from more than 120 countries are expected to start their higher education journey as part of the spring 2022 class. And that more than 30 universities, including the University of Illinois, have launched some 40 similar online degree programs to date.

ACCELERATING TRANSFORMATIONAL CHANGE

It’s encouraging to see advancement and organizations committing to invest billions in technology and remote learning, including the World Bank and US government through CARES Act funding.

The question is how do we make sure that those funds and investments will succeed?

In the Georgia Tech OMSCS program we have a great model for how to build great education online with super high-quality and extra low-cost.

Following are the three keys that made this project successful, in my opinion:

The Power of And

Partnership between Udacity, Georgia Tech and AT&T made it possible. Institutions working together can make a huge difference. If you start with that principle, believe that quality is paramount, and an investor seeds the capital to fund that quality, that’s the magic.

An Innovation Mindset 

Georgia Tech’s leadership was courageous – disrupting their own business model. Challenging themselves to design a fully online low-cost alternative, they took the risk to do something where others had failed before. Innovation is a process where by necessity you’re going to have some failures. It’s okay to put those behind you and move on. Fail forward.

High-Quality and Low-Cost

The top three priorities for the leadership team were quality, quality and quality. The objective was to deliver the high-quality education Georgia Tech is known for, making it more accessible and more affordable. The focus on bringing the same quality at a different price point paid off. According to feedback from graduates more than 95% say it “is a good investment” and “would be willing to recommend” the experience. 80% say “it has helped their career.”

In my view, the work of Dr. Galil, Sebastian Thun, the entire Georgia Tech leadership team and AT&T serves as a powerful example of innovation delivering big gains in accessibility and affordability.

If it’s possible to gain a high-quality masters degree using technology, what could this mean for access to undergraduate degrees?  Can we apply the same principles for people interested in skills-based training, instead of a formal education, to perform critical jobs of the future?

The lessons learned from the Georgia Tech model and the significant investments that are now planned are encouraging.

The future rests in accelerating access to affordable, high-quality education without limits.

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