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eCornell and Access to Higher Education

I recently encountered an interesting article by AOL concerning online learning in the Ivy League. The article mentions Cornell's online learning a fair amount:

"Since 2001 we've interacted with more than 8,000 students, delivered 24,000 unique courses, and serviced learners from 132 countries," says Chris Proulx, president and CEO of eCornell, a wholly owned subsidiary of Cornell University. Though at the moment, the school does not provide coursework for credit, its training programs interact with Cornell's School of Industrial and Labor Relations, School of Hotel Administration, and Johnson Graduate School of Management. "Our focus is on professional and executive education. We service individuals who are interested in career advancement certificates -- we train the Fortune 1000."

Unfortunately, the article fails to mention Cornell's other online learning offering -- distance learning from the School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions -- and instead focuses on eCornell, which is aimed at professional education and is a blatant, for-profit venture of the University, and something which I find to be a bit antiethical to Cornell's land grant mission. For instance, this course on "Proactive Leadership in Higher Education" (geared at community college administrators, among others), carries a pretty hefty pricetag of $2500 with it.

But even a course through Continuing Education isn't cheap -- a non-degree student interested in taking an online course would have to pay the same rate as anybody else -- $835 per credit.

Now compare these prices and services to those offered by the Distance Learning component of Harvard's Extension School, where most courses run under $1000 for the whole course and some courses cost as little as $350. Moreover, the courses are offered all year round, and are not just available during the Winter and Summer terms, as Cornell's are.

I know that the faculty squabbled over the governance and funding of eCornell when it was first launched six years ago, but it may behoove them to return to the issue. If Cornell was truly committed to its motto of "any person... any study" and its land grant mission, it would seriously reconsider some of its distance education pricing and policies.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on March 03, 2006 (#)

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