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Duke to Offer Certificates for Fee in Free Online Courses

Duke to Offer Certificates for a Fee for ‘Free’ Online Courses
A group listens during a tour of the Duke University campus in Durham, North Carolina. Photographer: Jim R. Bounds/Bloomberg

Duke University and the University of California, San Francisco will begin offering certificates for a fee for some classes offered through Coursera Inc., an online provider of free courseware.

The schools will charge as much as $100 for certificates, Coursera said today in a statement. Students who pay the fee will receive a certificate with a verification Web link proving they took the course, according to Andrew Ng, 36, a co-founder of Coursera who teaches computer science at Stanford University.

“This is about making sure students have a way to show off their work,” Ng, who is also director of Stanford’s Artificial Intelligence Lab, said in a telephone interview. “They want to prove to employers they’ve completed the courses.”

Coursera is a for-profit educational technology company based in Mountain View, California, that has 33 university partners, including Stanford near Palo Alto, California, and Duke in Durham, North Carolina, to offer more than 200 free online courses. The company, founded in 2011, has more than 2 million users, most of whom aren’t enrolled on a college campus, Ng said. Students who don’t want a certificate can still take the courses for free.

While students don’t earn credits toward a degree by taking the courses through Coursera, the so-called verified certificates will bear the stamp of both the company and the university, Ng said.

Work Enhancement?

“We hope that these credentials, while they will not contribute directly toward a degree, will afford students around the world, of all ages, backgrounds and resources an opportunity to have a legitimate credential for their work in order to advance their career or fulfill themselves personally,” Peter Lange, Duke’s provost, said in a statement released by Coursera.

While some universities have teamed up with Coursera and other online educational providers, many remain skeptical about the potential of offering free courses that provide access to top U.S. professors. Only 2.6 percent of U.S. colleges offer such courses, while an additional 9.4 percent plan to, according to a survey released yesterday by Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts.

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