MIT, Harvard and Stanford universities have all begun offering massive open online courses for free on subjects such as artificial intelligence and computer engineering. And while many praise the initiative as an educative model open to all, giving the public free education may produce some unsavory results. This is the opinion held by Michael Cusumano, a professor at the Sloan School of Management at MIT, who believes that there is something elitist in the free education model. According to Cusumano, only a few private universities with massive endowments could survive a wave of free classes online.
What’s the Big Idea?
Cusumano compares the move to the introduction of online content to the newspaper industry, which made a near-fatal mistake early on by not charging for content. Its motivation was precisely that of many who praise online courses: The future is here and open to everyone. The consequences for the newspaper industry—that safeguard of democracy—were dire. “In education,” said Cusumano, “free in the long run may actually reduce variety and opportunities for learning as well as lessen our stocks of knowledge.” Who would pay to attend their local university if comparable knowledge were offered for free?