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EdX, a virtual education platform co-founded by Harvard and MIT, recently launched a financial aid program, allowing financially disadvantaged students to receive a 90-percent discount on verified course certificates.
While it is free to enroll in courses, users are required to pay fees that range from $50 to $100 in order to earn a verified certificate from an institution upon completing a course. Until last December, edX students had the option of earning a free “honor code certificate” for courses they audited, but the company discontinued that option.
Now, as of December, students have the option of applying for financial assistance for verified certificates from edX—the four-year-old non-profit provider of massive online open courses that now boasts more than 90 partners from around the globe.
In order to receive a discounted credential, interested online learners must submit an application that is evaluated “holistically” by an edX support team, according to edX CEO Anant Agarwal. In the application, users must report an annual household income and write short essays about their financial situations, learning goals, and career aspirations.
“It’s really remarkable how much effort people put into this, which is why we think we have a really good program on our hands,” Agarwal said. “We just started the program four months ago and have been getting several hundred applications a week.”
Although edX and its partner universities have supported the idea of financial aid, Agarwal said the program is “complicated to administer,” especially given that it is funded by in-house dollars at a non-profit organization.
“Our financial aid program is not sustainable,” Agarwal said. “Right now we are funding it out of donor dollars. Our hope is that we get philanthropic contributions to help with our financial program.”
EdX announced its decision to offer financial assistance shortly before researchers Justin Reich and John A. Hansen released the results of a study that found a strong correlation between higher socioeconomic status and the likelihood of completing MOOCs. Reich and Hansen studied users enrolled in 68 Harvard and MIT courses offered through edX.
Robert A. Lue, the faculty director of HarvardX, the University’s branch of edX, emphasized that the new program increases access to certification rather than content for truly “committed” online learners.
“Free access is there now, as it always was,” Lue said.
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