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Udacity strikes deal to bring low-cost online classes to California university

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Udacity, a startup that provides online college courses, is set to announce a partnership with San Jose State University this week, in a move that could set the stage for broader, less expensive web classes across California. According to the New York Times, this marks the first time that college professors have collaborated with a massive open online course (MOOC) to create a full slate of for-credit classes, including instructional videos and web-based quizzes.

Under a pilot program set to kick off this month, Udacity will offer San Jose State students both remedial and college-level algebra courses, as well as an introductory class on statistics. For now, each class will be limited to 300 students, with half of the slots allocated to San Jose State students, and the other half to students from nearby community colleges and high schools. The financial terms of the agreement have not been disclosed, but students will have to pay only $150 for each three-unit course, well below the tuition fees for standard classes at San Jose State.

Online courses could ease the transition to college

The deal was reportedly spearheaded by California Governor Jerry Brown, who has been urging schools to adopt online classes as a way to deal with the state's educational shortcomings. According to Ellen N. Junn, San Jose State provost and vice president of academic affairs, more than 50 percent of students entering the California State University System cannot meet basic requirements in math and English. The idea, then, is for Udacity to help facilitate this transition.

Udacity, which was founded by former Stanford professor and Google X founder Sebastian Thrun, says its program will involve online "mentors" trained and hired by the company, in addition to university professors currently on staff. Some, however, remain concerned over how control over these courses will be delegated — and whether college faculty may be left watching from the sidelines.

"My personal opinion is that it’s not by accident that this is being announced at a time when most faculty are not on campus, but I have no evidence for that," said Preston Rudy, a sociology professor at San Jose State who also serves as vice president of the California Faculty Associaton's San Jose chapter. "I don’t know enough about Udacity to take any position, but over all, I know the university is concerned about who will teach courses if they go online, who has control, and whether they will be university employees."