Photographer: Mitch Altman/Flickr

You Can Now Take an Entire MBA Course Online for Free

You'll still have to scrape together $20,000 to get the degree

Business-minded adults looking to squeeze in MBA classes will soon be able to skip the testing, paperwork, and interviews that entrance to business school usually requires and take all the classes that a full two-year MBA program typically offers. Perhaps the most important part: They can do it without paying a dime. 

The University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign’s College of Business got the green light Monday evening to roll out a new MBA program, dubbed the iMBA, through online education platform Coursera. Over the coming months, the school will put all the courses required for its traditional MBA program on Coursera, free of charge. Students will be able to dabble in select courses or plow through the entire curriculum while earning certificates in such specializations as digital marketing, accounting, and business operations.

The landing page for the upcoming iMBA program
The landing page for the upcoming iMBA program
Coursera

Like most free things, however, there’s a catch. While all the classes for the MBA will be available online, those who want an actual MBA from the University of Illinois, not just a certificate, will have to apply for admission to the full iMBA program and pay about $20,000 in tuition. 

To be sure, $20,000 is still a discount relative to other offerings in the increasingly crowded online business education market. Online MBA programs at established business schools, such as those offered by the Tepper School of Business, Kenan-Flagler Business School, and Olin Graduate School of Business, charge students anywhere from $78,200 to $108,080 for a full MBA. And other schools that have jumped into online business education, such as Harvard Business School, have shared only a sliver of the courses the University of Illinois will release on Coursera. 

Price aside, Coursera says the iMBA program is unique because it will let students "stack" credentials, meaning they can pile on courses in certain skills that may help them advance in their careers or even find new jobs. 

"It's a completely innovative way of aggregating credentials, which really allows people to consume what they want, when they want it," says Daphne Koller, president of Coursera. "If you want to learn digital marketing, you can sign up for that specialization; if you want to learn about business negotiation, you can do that; and if you want the full MBA, you're on the path for that as well."

Prospective students will be able to send in applications to the iMBA program later this year, and the program is slated to be launched in the spring of 2016. 

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