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2U creates online undergraduate school program with leading universities


A NEW APPROACH TO ONLINE UNDERGRAD EDUCATION: The race to figure out how to extend brand name universities in the digital world is gaining momentum. Today, 2U (formerly 2Tor), which has been building graduate programs with well-known universities, said it was working with a group of leading undergraduate university programs to create an accredited online program for their students.

Students who are accepted into the program, which is called "Semester Online," will be able to take courses offered by any of the schools, no matter where they are located. They will receive academic credit from the offering school for the classes they take.

Ten universities are participating in the Semester Online program: Brandeis University, Duke University, Emory University, Northwestern University, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Notre Dame, University of Rochester, Vanderbilt University, Wake Forest University and Washington University in St. Louis--are part of the consortium.

The program expects to offer students largely the same faculty and courses as they would take if they were on campus--meaning that a Duke student could take an art history class at the University of Rochester or visa versa.  2U will provide the digital infrastructure for supporting class work, discussions and so on. "Students will still have live, in-person classes but they can physically be anywhere," says Jeremy Johnson, president of the 2U undergraduate program.

Johnson also noted that 2U approach is different from Coursera and other MOOC programs--even as Coursera has started arranging to have academic credit awarded for its programs.

The SemesterOnline program "is more about creating an online experience that's equally good as the best classroom experiences in the year. So our approach and students are very different and the schools that would accept credit are very different. It's a different value proposition," he says.

It's also a different acceptance process and a different price: because participating in the SemesterOnline program is more like enrolling in one of the universities in the consortium, students will still go through the typical university application process and pay the same university fees.

Johnson says that the universities in the SemesterOnline collectively decided on which schools would be partners in the operation--and what the admissions requirements would be. A few more schools may join the group but that Johnson doesn't expect it would expand significantly.

"If you poll students at top tier schools and ask what percent of their learning came from fellow students, they say it's hugely important," Johnson notes. "One of the bigger differentiators [with SemesterOnline] is that you're admitting students who would be in those classes in the bricks-and-mortar world--but they just come from anywhere. It's more diverse but they're people who can challenge you and from whom you will learn. "

The SemesterOnline program is expected to open its doors to students in September 2013.

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