Illustration by Maren Slobody

UC Santa Cruz will now begin offering classes online for free through Coursera’s online education platform.

Coursera began in April of 2012 with Stanford, Michigan, Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania as its initial partners, according to an announcement from the University newsletter.

Coursera currently makes over 200 college level classes available to the public for free online. City on a Hill Press believes that this is admirable and supports universal access to education.

The mission of Coursera is to provide a free education to all and to eliminate the impediment that high tuition often imposes on individuals seeking an education. While Coursera does not offer a degree to those who complete its online courses, it runs on the idea of education for education’s sake.

Now more than ever universities need innovative ideas for making cheap education a reality. We believe that UCSC’s new partnership with Coursera is going to help achieve that ideal.

However, we would also like to raise some concerns about what the Coursera partnership means for the future of education.

First of all, students pay for their degrees. Increasing the number of available free classes potentially means diminishing the prestige of a degree. With more online students obtaining the same education and skills as degree-holders, there’s also the possibility that this will diminish the value of a college degree on the job market.

If this is where the future of education is headed, universities may one day have to radically reassess how they attract thinkers and innovators without the lure of a degree.

A college degree, however, may now be seen as something separate from an education. Practically speaking, it is still the major prerequisite for attending graduate schools, which in turn opens up numerous employment opportunities. Although online education may be gaining more legitimacy, employers still put faith in degrees.

There are also less tangible advantages in a traditional college education. Interacting with peers in the classroom, talking to professors at office hours and living in a university environment all offer benefits to students that can’t be found in a monitor screen.

Education ought to be accessible to all. Not having the resources to obtain an education should never stop anyone from becoming educated. Coursera stays in step with this ideal and we at City on a Hill Press are grateful for what it offers to students. But we do not believe online education has reached a point where it can supplant the benefits of a degree.

With this goal of equal access to education in mind, whatever change it brings to education, is a change that we welcome.