Masters adds new pathways to access to master’s degrees

Learners who pass an integrated set of MITx graduate-level courses on, and one or more proctored exams, will earn a MicroMasters credential from MITx, and can then apply to enter an accelerated, on campus, master’s degree program at MIT or other top universities that participate in the growing pathways program.
“We are proud to be driving increased access to higher education and career advancement through micromasters credentials and blended master’s programs for learners around the globe,” says MIT Dean for Digital Learning Krishna Rajagopal, “allowing them to more effectively balance their professional and personal lives with learning. 
The growing number of pathway institutions offer great on-campus experiences and enable accelerated, convenient, and more affordable access to a master’s degree.”
The recently-added pathway institutions are:
Harvard Extension School (Cambridge, Massachusetts) for the programs in supply chain management (SCM) and data, economics and development policy (DEDP);
Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM, in Mexico) for DEDP;
Hong Kong Polytechnic University (Hong Kong) for SCM;
To date, 19 pathway institutions in 11 countries offer 58 different pathways to a master’s degree.
Benefits of the pathways for global learners
The pathway network enables MicroMasters credential holders, who are typically working professionals, to obtain a master’s degree from MIT or a growing number of pathway institutions whose campuses may be geographically accessible to them wherever they are.
Learners from around the globe, especially those who are well into their professional lives, may find it impossible to commit to a full-time one-year or two-year on-campus master’s program. It’s not merely a problem of time and money, but also of making sacrifices in their professional and family lives as they invest in higher education.
With its growing network of pathway institutions, the MicroMasters program changes the calculus for global learners. 
They can begin by taking flexible, cost-effective online MicroMasters courses that enable them to keep working, earning a MicroMasters certificate, a valuable professional and academic credential in and of itself. 
Many MicroMasters recipients benefit professionally immediately, advancing their careers. MITx credential recipients can also decide to seek a master’s degree by way of entering an on-campus degree program and receiving credit for their MicroMasters courses, shortening the residential requirement.
In order to learn more about the benefits of this pathway to a master’s program, three learners who’ve just completed their master’s degrees in supply chain management recently 
provided their insights on the program.
Dan Covert was already working as a supply chain professional for global retailer Ahold Delhaize (the Dutch owner of Stop and Shop supermarket) when he realized he “didn’t understand the core fundamentals of running a supply chain for a global company.” Covert had another problem: “I didn’t see a path forward for a master’s degree. I just wasn’t willing to leave my job, commit two years to a master’s program, and take on those financial burdens.”
He signed up for cost-effective online MicroMasters courses in SCM, learning at night and on weekends: “It was the perfect way for me to keep working full-time while dipping my toe into higher education,” he says.
Like Dan Covert, Ramon Paulino took online SCM courses and eventually earned his master’s in June, coming onto the MIT campus for one semester. While taking his final online course, Paulino decided to pursue the on-campus portion. “I really liked what I was learning, and had this appetite to keep the momentum going after I’d tested the waters.”
Paulino also mentions the low financial investment and accelerated, accessible nature of the blended master’s: “I don’t think I could have committed to even a full-year, on-campus program,” he says, “because of the amount of money and the burdens of fitting education into my professional and private life.” For example, Paulino remembers “taking an online test at the airport while traveling for my consulting company.”
Paulino says his wife was crucial in helping him balance work, life, and learning: “she kept working while I spent the few months on-campus at MIT.
It made things so much easier because I only had to spend a short time on campus, versus an expensive one-year commitment while not working. Being able to compress that time made it all possible,” he says.
Rafaela Nunes, now working in Sao Paulo, Brazil, emphasizes three points when asked to explain the benefits of the online courses: “Accessibility, meaning I could study from anywhere; flexibility, meaning I could learn around my work schedule, and affordability of cost.”
All three SCM learners interviewed said the online courses prepared them well for the accelerated on-campus learning experience. And all three maintain that the collaborative, face-to-face nature of the on-campus experience was critical for their learning.
Nunes describes her overall experience in the SCM blended master’s program as “intense, unforgettable and of immeasurable value to my future.”
Benefit of the pathways for MIT, institutions, and companies
Pathways don’t just benefit global learners by offering a crucial on-campus learning experience, but also benefit the pathway institutions, and companies looking for cutting-edge talent. For instance, some pathway institutions are already integrating some of the MITx MicroMasters curriculum into what they’re doing, using it as a model.
Moreover, being part of the growing MITx MicroMasters pathway network gives these institutions access to talented, well-prepared students who have already shown a proven commitment to learning, mastering graduate level MITx coursework through obtaining the MITx MicroMasters credential, and who may not otherwise have considered completing master’s degree.
Tracy Tan, director of the MicroMasters Program, adds that the pathways program “helps advance MIT’s educational mission of promoting access to world-class learning, and allows MIT to make a greater global impact with its world-renowned educational content.” By making learning more accessible for working professionals around the globe, geographically accessible pathways even help global companies access more talent in an array of professional areas.
MITx MicroMasters: Offering Students Access to Quality Credentials and Degree Pathways at Multiple Universities at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, United States
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, launched OpenCourseWare in 2002, as a freely accessible depository of course materials.
In 2018, it contains virtually all MIT course content, with resources from 2,400 courses available to learners and educators around the world at no cost.
In 2012, MIT was one of the founding partners, with Harvard University, of edX, the massive open online course (MOOC) provider and continues to offer MOOCs, with free content, supplemented by paid access to assessments and credentials. As the number of MOOC providers expands, it is increasingly difficult for learners and employers to differentiate, make choices, and assess quality and effectiveness.
MIT saw their next step as creating high quality, master-level content that they stood behind by designing a program to award credit for online learning that is accepted in their master’s degree programs.
In 2016, the first MITx MicroMasters launched, as part of MIT’s mission to improve education worldwide by providing pathways for learners to accelerate their access to graduate studies globally.
Essential to the MITx MicroMasters are the pathways institutions universities around the world which accept an MITx MicroMasters as equivalent to an institutionally-determined portion of their comparable master’s degree programs. MicroMasters credentials are offered on edX by 26 institutions around the world: MIT currently has four MicroMasters programs.
An MITx MicroMasters program consists of a set of MIT graduate level courses, with full equivalency to MIT traditional courses, which are taken online, with learners rigorously assessed before receiving a MicroMaster credential. With this credential, learners can apply for entry to a blended MIT master’s program and, if accepted, complete a shorter program at lower cost than a fully on-campus master’s to earn an equivalent degree.
Four programs are offered as MITx MicroMasters:Supply Chain Management, with 5 courses.
Data, Economics and Development Policy, with 5 courses Principles of Manufacturing, with 8 short coursesStatistics and Data Science, with 4 courses
In each program, all content resembles the rigor of the MIT master’s level courses.
Each online course is 11-13 weeks long, offering short videos, readings, lectures, quizzes and mid-term and final assessments, with one or more online proctored exams.
After registering and paying of fees (generally between $1,200 to $1,500 per program), students work through each course offered on edX and complete the ongoing assessments. It is recommended students follow one online course at a time, with each course offered two or three times a year.
They are instructor-led courses, so students must adhere to course timelines. At the rate of one course at a time, program completion takes about 18 months.
Depending on the program, one final proctored exam covers all courses in each program or each course has its own proctored final.
The proctored exams are timed and closely monitored through software. Students verify their identity prior to the exam, using a webcam and photo ID, and then use the webcam to scan their desks and exam rooms. The proctoring software monitors student computers and any software operating, as well as recording video and audio.
The proctoring team views the exam taking and flags any potential violations to the course team who view the recording.
In addition, the course team attempts to circumvent opportunities for cheating by offering student unique questions, with different numbers and variables. Very few violations were found.
The MicroMasters credential can be a student’s final goal; others may choose to move on to the associated full master’s degree.
Each MITx MicroMasters corresponds to about one semester of the credit requirement for a corresponding master’s program at MIT. MicroMasters graduates can apply to the relevant blended master’s program on campus.
They go through the same admissions as all applicants, but some of the criteria are modified. For example, in the Supply Chain Management program, they do not have to submit Graduate Records Examination (GRE) results; in Data, Economics and Development Policy, many standard criteria will be waived.
As an example of the on-campus portion of the master’s degree program, the blended Master’s in Supply Chain Management, available only to MITx MicroMasters graduates, is a five-month on-campus program, accepting 40 students a year, and charging $45,000 in tuition.
In comparison, the equivalent fully on-campus Supply Chain Management Master’s is a 10-month program which accepts 40 students a year and charges about $90,000 tuition.
Not all MITx MicroMasters credential holders wishing to pursue a full degree program can attend the on-campus MIT program.
To facilitate access to related programs at other institutions, MIT sets up Global Pathways Agreements with other universities.
With these agreements, MicroMasters credential holders apply to pathway universities to complete a master’s in one of the relevant programs and go through their regular admissions process.
Some universities modify their admissions criteria for applicants. Successful applicants are given advanced standing based on the pathway university’s assessment of the MITx MicroMasters content’s compatibility with the curriculum in their degree program.
MITx MicroMasters credential holders receive credit for 20% to 50% of relevant degree programs at pathways institutions.
To date, in summer 2018, there are 56 established pathways involving 17 universities in 11 countries. For example, Global Pathways for the MITx MicroMasters in Supply Chain Management includes 16 universities in 10 countries, involving 20 different master’s degree programs.
The Master’s degrees earned by the MITx MicroMasters credential holders are awarded solely by the pathway institutions, although mention of the MITx MicroMasters may be part of the students’ transcripts. There are no financial arrangements between MIT and pathway institutions.
Benefits and Outcomes
The students can achieve a master’s degree at MIT at much lower cost than the equivalent fully on-campus program and with shorter full-time attendance.
The MITx MicroMasters designation is recognized by many employers as adding value and credential holders have a sense of self-achievement at completing master’s level courses.
For MIT, the MicroMasters offers the opportunity to serve new groups of learners and bring some of that talent to MIT.
For pathway institutions, aligning with the MITx MicroMasters can bring new students to their institutions, and offers brand exposure through their affiliation with the program.
Challenges and Enhancements
Conveying the value of MicroMasters to the marketplace presents a challenge, as it is often essential to change the perception of online learning.
Tracy Tan, Director of the MicroMasters Program at MIT Open Learning, provides a concise description of the program as offering, “rigorous content, with strict assessment and a valuable credential.” Students, industry and others need to be convinced of how successful the learners can be.
Fifty-two (52) MicroMasters programs are available on edX from 26 institutions.
The providers need to work together to promote a strong and clear brand, sharing best practices and responses to challenges.
A new unique feature for MicroMasters is the recent launch of the learners’ records. All the learners’ performance information stored in the edX platform can now be requested by the learners to be shared with pathway institutions. It resembles the traditional transcripts but with a fresh design. Courses, letter grades, percentage and verify attempts are included.
The number of pathway institutions continues to grow, offering institutions and students possibilities for new learning and credentials.
Extended research on learners can offer better understanding of their characteristics contributing to success and motivations, whether for the MicroMasters or access to a full master’s program. Follow-up with the MicroMasters credential holders can assess impact.
For Further Information
  • Tracy Tan
  • Director, MicroMasters Program
  • MIT Open Learning
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States
  • Institution
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Teaching and Learning
  • International Pockets of Innovation
  • Country
  • United States