Forty public universities, including Arizona State, Cleveland State, and the University of Arkansas, are planning to offer free online courses that carry full credit in an effort to entice potential students to sign up for a full degree program. The new initiative, know as MOOC2Degree (MOOC stands for massive open online course), is being run in a partnership between the universities and Academic Partnerships, a commercial company that helps universities move their courses online. As part of this initiative, Academic Partnerships will work with the universities to recruit for these courses and will receive a cut of any tuition from students who sign on for further study.

The universities and Academic Partnerships are hoping that this freebie will help people realize the value of an online education without any initial financial risk. "While the number of online education opportunities continues to grow at an incredible pace, there are still many adults who are apprehensive about the experience and demands of learning online," said Phil Regier of Arizona State University Online. "We want people to experience what a high-quality online course is really about, with all the academic rigor, interactions and opportunities we provide."

An example of the kind of course being offered includes the University of Cincinnati's Innovation and Design Thinking course, which can kick off a master-level degree in either business or engineering. According to The New York Times, however, many of the courses will be "professional development" courses — offerings that could lead to a master's in education or a bachelor of science in nursing. While free online courses aren't exactly a new thing, such a large partnership plus free college credit means these offerings will likely get a look by curious online academics. The first offerings will be available to interested students this spring.