Geile/Leon Marketing Communications

Higher Education: Is Free Coursework Charity or Promotion?

Now you can achieve MBA status for free—well, sort of—it may just be a higher education marketing masterstroke. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will offer a seemingly revolutionary MBA program they call the iMBA. It works like this—UIUC will offer the entirety of its iMBA coursework on Coursera, a free online education platform where students are able to earn specializations such as accounting, business operations and digital marketing. Pretty cool, right?

Well, as the saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. While course “certificates” may be earned for free online, legitimate iMBA’s can only be obtained by gaining admission to the University, then paying somewhere in the ballpark of $20,000. That ain’t free.

So what’s UIUC’s angle here? Maybe we can chalk it up to an act of charity—here’s a university providing a solid curriculum to folks who can’t or simply don’t want to pay for a traditional MBA. Could be, but what if UIUC saw free online coursework as an education marketing opportunity?

Perhaps UIUC realized prospective students’ reservation to delve into the all-too-familiar realm of student-loan debt. Maybe prospective students just needed a small taste of MBA coursework, like a sample at Costco, to fork over the $20,000 for the official iMBA. After sampling the coursework and assuring themselves that an MBA is attainable, they’d feel confident investing tens of thousands of dollars.

Charity or genius promotion, free coursework from any university as esteemed as UIUC should be greatly valued in this day and age. Average undergraduate student-loan debt is up to $30,867 per student—the highest it’s ever been. While college costs surge, the value of a degree has remained substantial. According to the Wall Street Journal, workers with only a high school degree earned a median weekly wage of $668 compared to $1,193 for workers with at least a bachelor’s degree.

If all of the knowledge can be found online, I fear it’s become blatantly obvious that we’re paying large sums of money (that we don’t have) for a posh piece of paper. This is neither profound nor a revelation. College has always been about getting the degree, and hey, if you learn something along the way, that’s great too.

We work with a number of education clients to help define their brand and create strategies that drive results. Think your brand could benefit? Contact us today!

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