Writing for Inside Higher Ed (June 6, 2008), Kevin Carey asks What's Missing from 'Open' Courses. His experienced answer is portable (transferable) course credits or similar credentials. Unlike Carey's "fee-less" opportunity to engage online (asynchronously) in otherwise completing a Yale "open" course, his opportunity to earn credit for his effort hinges not only on submitting three papers for Yale's assessment, but also upon first being accepted at Yale and paying the prevailing tuition-based credit-hour rates for the course. Many "convenience" students, such a Carey, might gladly pay Yale a reasonable price (low marginal cost plus a reasonable "profit") for grading the three papers that are required to earn course credit -- or not. Carey understands, of course, why Yale prefers to protect its "elite brand" and attendant tuition rates by not using online, open courses to scale its credit-hour and degree production. His excellent question and example, however, encourage us to think about open credit-less courses and the price and convenience of access to credited courses and online degree programs across the broader expanse of nonprofit higher education.
Demonstrated mastery of content is not "king" today. Credentialing is king, and, yes, the opportunity for credentialing is highly priced at luxury-branded Yale, perhaps justifiably so (if we ignore questions about Yale's 501(c)(3) charitable mission). Credentialing may be priced more reasonable at the vast majority of public two- and four-year institutions, but technology-enabled, convenient, affordable opportunities to earn transferable course credits and degree credentials are woefully lacking at all levels of U.S. higher education. We need to increase the proportion of degree holders in the population, and, in light of demographic trends and global economic competition, that will require more flexible, affordable opportunities to earn credentials that will remain fungible through a life time of accumulated learning.