You can now get half an MIT master’s degree almost for free, and without ever going to MIT

Within reach.
Within reach.
Image: Reuters/Brian Snyder
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The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is one of many elite US universities jumping on the bandwagon of free online education. The institution’s latest move even goes a step further, allowing students to take free online coursework that counts as credit toward a degree.

MIT’s pilot program, announced last week, will offer free online classes in its supply chain management master’s program, and offer those students the option of earning a ”MicroMaster’s credential” after passing an exam and paying a $1,500 fee.

Top US universities with degree-eligible online courses typically charge far more, and also involve in-person logistics. Online degree programs at schools like Harvard, Yale, and Georgetown, for instance, can cost up to $84,000 and require on-campus visits.

While MIT’s MicroMaster’s can be completed online, putting it toward a full master’s degree still requires time on campus, albeit at a low cost. Students who earn the MicroMaster’s credential can complete a second semester on MIT’s campus for $33,000—roughly half the cost of the school’s on-campus yearlong program.

The model is particularly promising for specialized fields. By focusing its online offering on people who study supply management (the flow of goods from manufacturers to consumers), MIT is attempting to address the practical drawbacks of earning a specialized degree for mid-career employees. The school’s supply management program, highly valued by companies, usually requires that employees take a year off to complete the degree. This way, MicroMaster’s students can test the waters in the low-cost online portion of the degree, and earn the other half if they choose.

MIT also sees its new online offering, which launches this winter, as a gateway into its otherwise elite degree programs. The school’s president, L. Rafael Reif, told the Associated Press that “anyone who wants to be here now has a shot to be here.”