Cost of College
An Online Education Breakthrough? A Master’s Degree for a Mere $7,000
By KEVIN CAREY
September 28, 2016
The master’s degree business is booming. College graduates looking for a leg up in the job market are flocking to one- and two-year programs that promise entry to lucrative careers. Top colleges are more than willing to provide them — for a price. Tuition for a 30-credit master’s in computer science from the University of Southern California runs $57,000. Syracuse, Johns Hopkins and Carnegie Mellon charge over $43,000 for the same degree.
But one highly ranked program, at Georgia Tech, has taken a very different approach. Its master’s in computer science costs less than one-eighth as much as its most expensive rival — if you learn online. And a new study by Harvard economists found that in creating the program, Georgia Tech may have discovered a whole new market for higher education, one that could change the way we think about the problem of college costs.
Georgia Tech rolled out its online master’s in computer science in 2014. It already had a highly selective residential master’s program that cost about the same as those of competitor colleges. Some may see online learning as experimental or inferior, something associated with downmarket for-profit colleges. But the nation’s best universities have fully embraced it. Syracuse, Johns Hopkins, U.S.C. and others have also developed online master’s degrees, for which they charge the same tuition as their residential programs.
Georgia Tech decided to do something different. It charges online students the smallest amount necessary to cover its costs. That turned out to be $510 for a three-credit class. U.S.C. charges online students $5,535 for a three-credit class. (Both programs also charge small per-semester fees.)