A dozen universities are offering 'massive open online courses' for free.
A dozen universities are offering 'massive open online courses' for free. - 
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Jeremy Hobson: In Washington this week lawmakers are considering some ideas to make college more affordable. But far from the Capitol, more than a dozen top-tier universities are signing on to a plan that will make college more affordable. They'll be offering some of their courses online for free.

Elizabeth Wynn Johnson reports.

Elizabeth Wynne Johnson: They're called 'massive open online courses' -- MOOCs, for short. And if you can get an education online for free, why you would you pay $50,000 a year in old-school tuition? Won't colleges have to lower tuition to compete?

Prof. Siva Vaidhyanathan says no. He heads the Media Studies department at UVA.

Siva Vaidhyanathan: There's nothing about any of the current experiments in terms of online course content delivery that comes anywhere close to real education.

Carol Twigg is president of the National Center for Academic Transformation. Most MOOCs don't count toward a degree, and she doesn't see top schools changing that anytime soon.

Carol Twigg: If they open that university up to the world for credit and degrees, suddenly that devalues their exclusivity, if you will.

In fact, Vaidhyanathan sees MOOCs as a marketing tool that will actually draw more students to brick-and-mortar campuses.

I'm Elizabeth Wynne Johnson for Marketplace.