“This is very much the end of the San Jose State-Udacity partnership for this pilot, and it’s really an attempt — in my opinion — to frame it in a positive light,” said Phil Hill, a higher education consultant. “This is an attempt to do a very nice eulogy for an event that wasn’t really pretty as it was happening.”
The project, known as SJSU Plus, has been on “pause” since this summer after its three spring semester courses posted pass rates between 23.8 and 50.5 percent — much lower than their on-campus equivalents. Although the rates rebounded over the summer, those sessions featured a vastly different student population, including some students with doctoral degrees. In comparison, the spring pilot included more at-risk students. After a National Science Foundation-backed study was published without fanfare in September, buzz about the project died down.
The results of SJSU Plus have even caused Udacity to shift its focus to corporate training. Speaking to Fast Company, the Udacity founder Sebastian Thrun said the disadvantaged students targeted by the pilot proved a mismatch for online education. “It’s a group for which this medium is not a good fit,” he said.
23.8 to 50.5 percent passing rate. Wow. And if disadvantaged students aren’t the medium for this kind of education, who is? Harvard students? Who exactly is going to take these classes? No one who has the social and economic power to go to institutions where actual teaching occurs. The big public flagship school in a fairly average state, say the University of Rhode Island, has students not all that much more advanced or prepared than at San Jose. The leading public institutions like Michigan and Texas are filled with students who will also try to avoid these sorts of courses in order to achieve the real education they wanted by going to those schools. If these things aren’t for the masses–and let’s face it, the masses are not always the most motivated or prepared students–who are they for?