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Try college for free this fall at ETSU

May 14th, 2013 7:52 pm by Rex Barber

Try college for free this fall at ETSU

If you’ve ever wanted to earn that bachelor’s degree but were afraid to commit to a full-fledged degree program, now you can try out college for free at East Tennessee State University.
ETSU administrators announced Tuesday the establishment of the Open Buccaneer University Course System (OpenBUCS), wherein anyone will be able to take U.S. history since 1877 and introduction to music at no charge beginning this fall.
ETSU President Brian Noland said the OpenBUCS program is compatible with the school’s history and mission.
“We as an institution are on the cutting edge of national change,” he said. “We always have been and we always will be.
“Over the past decade we’ve seen a transformation both in terms of the size and volume of this institution but a transformation in higher education in general as we’ve evidenced the evolution of online instruction.”
Noland pointed out that 8,332 students enrolled in online courses at ETSU this past fall.
Both courses in the OpenBUCS program are online and are considered to be part of a national concept known as Massive Open Online Courses.
These kinds of open source courses are already offered at places like Harvard and MIT, which are in partnership, and Stanford University. According to ETSU, the Harvard and MIT program has 25 such courses with 675,000 students, and Stanford has more than 3 million students in 100 courses.
More ETSU courses could be added to the OpenBUCS program depending on how the program is received this fall, said Karen King, vice provost for eLearning at ETSU.
She added that what makes ETSU’s program different from other such open online programs is that students who successfully complete the courses will be able to earn actual ETSU college credit for a total fee of $300 and satisfactory completion of a set of learning outcomes. The cost of three hours of class at ETSU this past academic year for undergraduates was $912.
For students who choose to not earn credit, a certificate of completion will be awarded.
“We’re very excited about this initiative,” King said. “We think it increases access to education for everyone, for anyone who is interested in it. For electing the path to credit, it has the potential to reduce the total cost of education and the total time to graduation.”
The history and music courses were chosen for offering first because there was interested faculty in those areas and they can be universally helpful, King said.
“And because they’re part of the general education core, I think they’ll be more attractive to students across the state who can use them toward their degree, if they choose to earn credit,” King said.
She said faculty members across campus are interested beginning other free online courses.
It will likely take between seven and 10 weeks for students to complete the courses in OpenBUCS, King said, which is less time than a semester.
King was not aware of any other school in Tennessee planning to implement a program similar to OpenBUCS. Schools across the nation are considering open courses, though.
King said it is too early to tell exactly what implications these free massive online courses will have on higher education, but it is important to be involved in the process.
“It’s really hard to tell where it’s going to go and where we will end up, and I think this is only the beginning,” she said. “But I think it’s important for us to be there in the beginning so we can get a good read on where things are going and what kind of things we need to do to make sure our students have the same opportunities as all other students across the country.”
For further information, visit, call the ETSU office of eLearning at 1-855-590-ETSU (3878) or email

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