Georgia Tech has announced a partnership with Web-learning startup Udacity that sees the two organizations team up to offer its first online master of science degree, which will run as an entirely Internet-based program.

The degree is for computer science, and AT&T is also onboard to help cover costs and to provide guidance on the courses and degree content.

Launching for the next school year, the degree will initially be a pilot program limited to just “a few hundred students” selected from AT&T and Georgia Tech affiliates. However, the plan is to expand the intake over the next three years.

The degree is not free, but, at less than $7,000 for the year, it is significantly cheaper than a traditional masters course. Most importantly, however, the core course materials will be available without charge, opening access to potentially millions of students, as Udacity co-founder Sebastian Thrun explains:

While the degree rightfully comes with a tuition fee — after all, to achieve the very best in online education we will provide support services — the bare content will be available free of charge, available for anyone eager to learn. We are also launching non-credit certificates at a much reduced price point, to give a path to those who don’t care about Georgia Tech credit or degrees, but still want their learning results certified.

We’re seeing plenty of online learning breakthroughs, particularly from Udacity — which raised $15 million last October — and Coursera, in particular. The latter recently expanded into K-12 courses and partnered with a range of publishers to provide free course textbooks to students.

Harvard research professor Thun firmly believes in the opportunities of the Internet and the possibilities that online learning can bring to people worldwide, saying:

I wish I had been born in the 1990s. Back when I was a college student, the Web did not exist. How many young students are there in the world today as eager to learn as I was? Only time will tell how many young people we’ll be able to empower to reach for the stars.

Randall Stephenson, AT&T chairman and CEO, commented:

Because of this collaboration, anyone with a broadband connection will have access to some of the finest computer science instruction in the world. We believe that high-quality and 100 percent online degrees can be on par with degrees received in traditional on-campus settings, and that this program could be a blueprint for helping the United States address the shortage of people with STEM degrees, as well as exponentially expand access to computer science education for students around the world.

Zvi Galil, Dean of Computing at Georgia Tech’s College of Computing, explains the university’s goal to lead online learning at degree level. It will certainly be interesting to see how the course fairs, and whether it kickstarts other higher educational organizations into striking similar partnerships.

More details of the degree can be found at the dedicated Georgia Tech webpage.

For those that are not familiar with Udacity, it’s a company focused on merging education with technology to help make learning accessible, engaging, and effective to the world. The founders believe that higher education is a basic human right and hope to “empower students to develop their skills in order to advance their careers.”

Related: Udacity makes its video lessons available for download to help reach more students

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