Coursera vs College degree

I am paying large amount of money to get my MBA degree. I have quit my job and I am studying full time, as a result I don’t have regular income nor the regular career progression I would have had, had I continued in my job. After I am done with my MBA, I am not sure if the job market would be good for me to land in a good job.

These were the thoughts that went through my mind, as I was doing a course on Coursera. The courses being offered on Coursera are world class, they are from some of the top universities. With such good courses available online why should anyone spend so much on higher education taking so many risks. Lets look at the advantages and disadvantages, I hope to be unbiased

Some aspects where a college degree and coursera degree defers

1. Structured education

Enrolling in a college degree, you will be put through many courses completing which you will get a complete understanding of the area/ specialization. For example in my MBA, we get to learn about Accounting, Finance, Marketing, Operations, Economics, Strategy, Organizational Culture and many more. So anybody who has completed an MBA degree is expected to have studied all the above subjects and is expected to have a basic understanding of them.

Right now Coursera is still young and only offers a small subset of courses which would be required to complete higher education. If Coursera does offer all the courses, then it still needs to address the issue of certifying the students with a degree. Coursera is more structured towards individual courses but not a degree. So going ahead, when it offers more courses it has to create a virtual degree to certify students. But then there would be a issue of credibility of the certificate.

2. Credibility

There is a difference between getting a degree from Harvard and getting a degree from some relatively new or unknown college. The issue of credibility. Any day a degree from Harvard is rated much higher and has more credibility.

With Coursera degree being open to all and for free, there can be many people with the degree and it would be hard to differentiate between them.

3. Individual Courses and Flexibility

With college degree, you are bound to the courses which are being offered in the college. There would be times when you would like to expand your knowledge but might be limited. Also, courses offered in college lag behind by couple of years to the developments in the industry. If those courses are not offered in your college but are being offered elsewhere, there is no way you can switch a college for a course. There is also a issue of Flexibility, if you are having a free time due to holiday season or less work, then you cannot take the course because you have to wait till the course is offered in the college again.

With Coursera, you can expand your knowledge on any subject at any time from any available offering. I feel this is the space, where Coursera has advantage over the traditional college degree.


4.Beyond classroom

Beyond the subject knowledge a student gets from a college, there is a lot a student learns from being enrolled in a college. Bigger part of learning process is learning from your classmates, learning from their experiences, perspectives, interactions and many more. There is also the aspect of building social skills. Which cannot be taught by just a lecture.

Again, Coursera completely fails in this aspect as there is no interaction with other students or industries. But in the long run Coursera can improve in this is aspect, if students can form study groups based on the common location they are from and are diligent in giving importance to the social aspect of learning. But I feel this is not possible and would always be a negative zone for Coursera.


In the long run, Coursera would establish itself as a goto place. Where anybody who is interested in expanding their knowledge in a specific area would turn to Coursera for expert material which would be available for free at any time.

Somethings which is puzzling me is, why are these top colleges offerring the courses for free. What is the incentive for them?


One thought on “Coursera vs College degree

  1. Aditya Sandu

    I think you covered most of the important aspects related to free quality online education vs Traditional education.
    I am a big fan of free quality online education ( as it can be accessible to everybody for nominal cost)

    Three things everything this debate revolves around is
    i) knowledge seeking
    ii) social life
    iii) certification

    knowledge seeking : Clearly, free online education wins in knowledge seeking criteria as best of best professors can teach millions of students. Just imagine Dr.Porter teaching us porter five forces or what if Newton did videos of Newton’s three laws of motion, we did not have to learn from some ordinary teacher at Vignan ( who certainly does not know 100% about those laws and it’s applications in real life).

    Social life : Traditional learning clearly wins in this area. Soft skills are great assets certainly.
    how about focus on soft skills in school age and let people start working from 18 years. let them do engineering or MBA’s from online videos and meet up with their peers for project based learning on Friday and Saturdays.

    Certification: Suppose, you have A in accounting from univ of California and I have A- in accounting from Thunderbird. who is more knowledgeable in accounting ? employers has no clue. where as with GMAT. Others can easily judge who is good at what. Why not have similar standard test. it should not matter whether I learn online or read from book or go to classes or learn through work experience, every student will give test and let the standardized test declare who is best.

    Regarding revenue for online education, money can be made through certification or tie-up with companies etc. ( with the huge volume of students, it can be big money even if every student contributes little bit).

    just my 2 cents.


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