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10 Highly Selective Colleges Form Consortium to Offer Online Courses

A group of 10 highly selective colleges has formed a consortium to offer online courses that students enrolled at any of the campuses can take for credit.

The group, which includes Wake Forest and Brandeis Universities, will offer semester-long online courses using software from 2U, an education-technology company formerly called 2tor. Students already attending the institutions can earn credit from any college in the group, while students who are not enrolled at those colleges can apply to take the courses.

Leaders of the effort say it will give students a wider selection of course options. A student at the University of Notre Dame with an interest in music, for example, will be able to take an online course from the University of Rochester’s music department for credit.

The software from 2U will give universities a platform for small online undergraduate courses capped at 20 students each. The company has previously worked with universities only on online graduate programs, like George Washington University’s online master’s degree in public health.

“We didn’t believe we could build a four-year undergraduate program equally as good as being at a great school,” said Jeremy Johnson, a co-founder of 2U and president of undergraduate programs. “But what we did think would be more interesting for students was a chance to either expand curricula in small ways while maintaining the campus experience or to explore a broader view of what’s possible with a semester abroad.”

The project might especially benefit students who are studying abroad, its leaders say, by enabling them to take courses in areas they would not otherwise have access to. “Imagine if you were interested in an internship with a nonprofit in sub-Saharan Africa, but there were no schools there you could accept credit from,” said Mr. Johnson. “Should you be prevented from pursuing that? If you were able to take courses from Duke, Northwestern, or Notre Dame while there, you could go anywhere.”

Students majoring in fields with highly structured curricula, like the sciences, are often deterred from studying abroad because of the difficulty of meeting course requirements, said Brian J. Whalen, president of the Forum on Education Abroad, an association of American and overseas colleges and education-abroad providers. Online courses for students abroad could broaden access in this way as well.

“The scale of this is something new,” Mr. Whalen said. “I’ve heard of cases where a single institution might offer an online course, but this is the first time there are multiple courses and multiple institutions cooperating in a consortium.”

More universities might be allowed to join the consortium in the future, Mr. Johnson said.

Universities in the consortium are:

  • Brandeis University
  • Duke University
  • Emory University
  • Northwestern University
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • University of Notre Dame
  • University of Rochester
  • Vanderbilt University
  • Wake Forest University
  • Washington University in St. Louis

Note: This article was updated. An earlier version said that the courses were primarily designed for study-abroad students.

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