MasterClass’s co-founder takes on the community-college degree | Mint

MasterClass’s co-founder takes on the community-college degree

MasterClass co-founder Aaron Rasmussen. (Photo: LinkedIn)
MasterClass co-founder Aaron Rasmussen. (Photo: LinkedIn)


  • A new, online-only education model promises associate degrees via prerecorded lectures from experts at Yale, NASA and other prestigious institutions

One of the founders of the celebrity-fueled, e-learning platform MasterClass is applying the same approach to the humble community-college degree—one based on virtual, highly produced lectures from experts at prestigious institutions around the country.

The online-only associate degree program from, a virtual education startup led by MasterClass co-founder Aaron Rasmussen, is the latest entrant in the burgeoning field of online credentials and degrees. Much like MasterClass—whose virtual self-improvement courses include tennis tips from Serena Williams and screenwriting lessons from Shonda Rhimes—the program will feature pretaped lectures from instructors who have taught at institutions such as Yale University, Columbia University and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

The two-year degrees—offered in applied computing, liberal studies or business administration—will be issued by Golden Gate University, a nonprofit institution in San Francisco. Golden Gate faculty and staff, not the lecturers, will be the ones to hold office hours, moderate virtual discussions and grade homework, said Outlier, which is announcing the program Wednesday and plans to start courses in the spring.

All-online degrees and credentials have proliferated in recent years. Companies from all sectors of the economy are in the thick of a digital revolution that has led to a surge in tech-driven jobs that often don’t require a four-year college degree but do rely on specific skill sets and credentials.

Many of the new players entering this crowded market pitch a quick path to skills certifications and lower costs than traditional community colleges. Outlier is trying to target some of millions of people who enroll in community college or credentialing programs and is betting that the combination of an easy-access online model and lectures from renowned experts will lure them.

With annual tuition of $4,470, the degree program from Outlier and Golden Gate isn’t necessarily cheaper than many community colleges. Tuition and fees at an in-district public community college averaged $3,800 over the past school year, according to the College Board, the nonprofit that administers the SAT. The Outlier tuition figure includes the cost of course materials, while the average reported by the College Board doesn’t.

Outlier has signed on Inc., which has pledged to pay the full tuition costs for hourly Amazon employees who participate. Enrollees also will be eligible for federal financial aid. All told, the associate degree will cost just under $9,000, including all fees, if completed within two years.

Scott Galloway,a popular podcaster and professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, has created a similar business-education platform called Section4, which offers onlineclasses taught by company executives and professors from various universities. Enrollees pay about $1,000 for a yearlong membership that comes with unlimited classes on subjects like product development and marketing. They earn certificates as they complete coursework—although no degree.’s model is distinctive because it mixes the prestige of highly ranked universities with the access of a community college, though the association is limited to the recorded lectures, said Adela Soliz, an assistant professor who researches community colleges and vocational education at Vanderbilt University.

“I’m wondering if the students are going to realize that these professors are not involved" in interacting with students, she said.

Mr. Rasmussen said the programs’ marketing and course materials will make it clear that outside professors will lecture while Golden Gate instructors will provide students with day-to-day guidance. One brochure highlights “interactive discussions with passionate GGU instructors" and “brilliant and approachable lecturers handpicked from top schools."

Many of the classes have been previously recorded for Outlier, which has raised $46 million from sources including Google Ventures. Golden Gate plans to adapt and sequence the lectures for the degrees. Though the lectures are pretaped, students can’t binge through classes like they could with a streaming TV show, an Outlier spokesperson said. Instead, they will follow a recommended weekly schedule with assignment due-dates.

Outlier’s Mr. Rasmussen saidhe hoped the classes would appeal to so-called commuter students, some of whom may ultimately want to transfer to a four-year university, or to the estimated 40 million U.S. workers who have taken some college classes without earning a degree.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text

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