Universities should not give out free content

With some prestigious universities offering their courses online for free, others are considering following suit. However, given the questionable usefulness of such programs, USF should not follow this method.

MIT is leading the way by offering course material for most of its classes for free online. Anyone with a computer can now access syllabi, reading lists, lectures and other content for more than 1,900 MIT classes. As of last year, over 50 million users had accessed the database, according to the school.

The program, known as OpenCourseWare (OCW), costs $120,000 annually, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. And the benefits to MIT are not exactly clear. Sharing content once only accessible to an elite few may be seen as a humanitarian gesture, but in this economy, it is a profitless drain on limited funds.

The benefits to those who take these courses are minimal as well. It may help students who wish to learn for learning’s sake, but most people take college classes to earn a degree and get a job.

Taking free online courses without being enrolled in a university is not a resume builder – and it shouldn’t be. Students pay for college with the expectation that a degree will help them earn a better, higher-paying job. Though accredited universities offer open courses, the courses do not translate into credits.

Though universities like USF may feel the need to put content online to stay competitive, they should not act so hastily. It doesn’t serve much of an economic benefit.

The Internet provides more and more information for free, which can hurt institutions that essentially sell information.

Similarly, newspapers have suffered the consequences of trying to make money while also offering their product for free.

Education funding may plummet further if universities feel the need to give out free course credit.

Experts on these programs are now questioning their economic viability. David Wiley, who set up an OCW program at Utah State University, predicted that programs such as MIT’s will not make it past 2012.

“I think the economics of open courseware the way we’ve been doing it for the last almost decade have been sort of wrong,” Wiley said to the Chronicle.

Projects aimed at disseminating information to everyone will not profit universities and are unlikely to stay afloat in this poor economy, making them likely fruitless endeavors. USF should not jump on the open-course bandwagon.