No need to visit Georgia Tech's campus if you go to class online.
No need to visit Georgia Tech's campus if you go to class online. - 
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Earlier this year, Georgia Tech became the first top university to offer a steep discount for an online grad degree:  less than $7,000 for a master’s in computer science, instead of the usual $45,000.

When applications closed last weekend, the pool looked very different from the traditional program. About 85 percent of graduate applicants came from the United States -- as opposed to one in 10 on campus.  

Georgia Tech Computer Science Dean Zvi Galil* says he doesn’t worry about cannibalizing his traditional program. It offers foreign students something they can’t get online: A visa.

"They want to come to the States," he says. "They want to get in, and they want to stay." 

Georgia Tech’s campus program enrolls 150 students and turns away more than 1,000. Eventually, Galil hopes to enroll thousands online; 2,300 applied in this first round.

The program uses technology developed for MOOCs -- massively open online courses. Georgia Tech partnered with Silicon Valley’s Udacity, which provides the back-end and will split any profits.

With pressure on tuition and new online technology, Galil says he figured somebody was going to do this. He wanted to get out front. That’s probably right, says Ronald Ehrenberg, who runs Cornell University’s Higher Education Research Institute. Tuition can’t keep going up forever. Something’s going to give.

"I’m very happy that I’m no longer a university administrator," he says, "because it’s very difficult to make decisions in such an unstable framework."

CORRECTION:  An earlier version of this story misspelled Zvi Galil's name. The text has been corrected.

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Follow Dan Weissmann at @danweissmann