The $17,500 computer science degree

Update: the tuition for this program has been changed and now amounts to about $30,000.  Sadly.

Our department has announced a new, entirely online, bachelor’s degree in computer science which can be completed in one year.  Given that we are a public university, this translates to a $17,500 degree*.

I will admit, when I first heard the idea I did not have very good thoughts about it.  My negative thoughts included

  • one year? yeah right!
  • what about programming languages, theory of computation, AI, etc.?
  • are we designing ourselves out of jobs? (courses will be administered by non-tenure-track instructors)
  • how will standards be maintained?

But then, I got to hear the details.  First, it is a post-baccalaureate degree.  So, students will already have a bachelor’s degree, and will have need to meet OSU’s post-baccalaureate admissions standards.  They will likely be more mature and perhaps working as they study.  I’m also glad to see that they are cautioning that completing the degree in one year would be a very intensive, full-time schedule and include two and three-year plans of study.  The degree is intended as a second degree, so all optional classes in CS are not mandatory.  Of course, this must ruffle some feathers as many courses that are required for graduation in our regular 4-year, first-degree program are not required by this post-bacc degree.  (I’m glad algorithms made the cut.)  As a post-bacc degree, we will still  have the usual cohort of students seeking a CS degree straight out of high-school.  Finally, it seems there is a consensus to require 2 proctored exams per course and, at least for the first few years, the assignments and exams will be the same as in the on-site classes.

I’ve been thinking more generally about online classes and online degrees and their social implications.  One commenter, pointed out some very valid points of the benefits of online education, that I have to agree with.  This degree provides an opportunity for the un- or under-employed to retrain for less than the cost of a new car.  The flexible schedule and location of the online classes will allow non-traditional students to study when they can, at the pace that they can.  I’m excited to see who will complete this program and from where they study.  I’d like to see a concerted effort to recruit women to complete this degree to perhaps counter the gender imbalance in our on-site program.

So, this coming fall, I will be converting my undergraduate algorithms class into an online class in time for a Winter 2013 release.  I’m excited to do this** and I’m sure I will have plenty to say about it in the fall.

* ~$15,000 for tuition (in- or out-of-state) plus additional expenses, such as textbooks (~$50 per course), a compatible laptop or computer (~$600), graduation fee ($300) and 2 proctored exams per course (~$30 each).

** And very glad that my department treats this course development as one class-worth of teaching assignment.

*** If you have questions about the program, please contact the program director directly at

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19 thoughts on “The $17,500 computer science degree

  1. anonymous moose

    “This degree provides an opportunity for the un- or under-employed to retrain for less than the cost of a new car.”

    I’m curious about this statement, since where I come from (Israel), CS is not considered a ‘vocational’ degree like law, medicine or even engineering, but rather a ‘theoretical’ degree like mathematics or philosophy. I was wondering if there is a pronounced vocational element in the CS degrees in US universities (or, specifically, in your university).

    To be more specific, it is commonly thought that Israeli universities do not give CS students any real applicable skills that directly translate to the job market or provide any “training” for the job market, but rather that a CS degree teaches students to think. The common view is that if they decide to go into industry, they can get the skills they need easily enough after that (I’m not sure if this common view is based on any real knowledge). It is also believed that it is hard, maybe impossible under current constraints, to provide students with actual applicable knowledge in the course of a university degree, even if professors wanted to. I was wondering if some US universities are better at this, or maybe there is just less awareness of the gap between the type of ostensibly applied knowledge that universities do give, and knowledge that is actually useful in today’s industry.

    1. Glencora Borradaile Post author

      If I hear the phrase “job-ready graduate” one more time …

      There is definitely an emphasis at OSU (and at other North American institutions) on developing applicable skills. Many schools have very strong internship programs — OSU arranges two 6-month internships with (mostly Oregonian) companies for about half of the undergraduates. We also have an industrial board for our School of EECS and the people on that board definitely influence the choice of languages in our courses and the special topics that are made available in the upper years. I’m pretty protected from all this in the courses that I teach, though, so I’m not quite the person to ask.

      1. Jason Avina

        And if I(or other liberal arts graduates) hear the phrase “teaching you how to think” one more time…

      2. Jason Avina

        \That the online CS post bach seems like it is aimed at producing “job ready graduates” is really the main reason I’m considering it. Not so much that it has a “vocational” emphasis versus other CS programs but that CS in general as a bachelors degree is employable. One concern I have though, is how you it won’t require all the classes an on campus degree would. That’s great, but what if a student WANTS to take a few of those courses, such as Statistics for Engineers, Data Mining, AI programming, or a class on Translators? Are they not available to the online student?

        1. Glencora Borradaile Post author

          Hi Jason — there are many other classes offered online at OSU. For example, see here for stats offerings. Right now, we don’t have any additional CS courses developed — we all got a little burnt out developing all the core classes in less than a year last year — but I do know it is a planned task. I would definitely pass on such thoughts to our program director, Padma Akkaraju — if several people request the same thing, we are much more likely to move on it.

          1. Jason Avina

            Thanks I appreciate the information, I may do that. That’s understandable about not yet offering more courses, that’s a lot of work in just one year to come up with an entire CS program.

            Just an idea I was thinking it would be pretty cool to be able to take a course on Coursera or Khan Academy and, have it reviewed by faculty, and if approved, have it count towards credit towards the online degree at OSU. Just an idea.

          2. Jason Avina

            I meant just as a course in addition to the courses already offered by OSU, to complement them, not as a replacement for any of the existing offerings.

    1. Glencora Borradaile Post author

      I was disappointed to hear this news too. I didn’t quite know what to say about it. The socialist in me cringes. Perhaps they could find a way to keep the cost low for residents of Oregon? I don’t really have a problem with higher tuition for those from outside.

    2. Cory S

      Glad I saw this. I was looking into the program, but 40K is overpriced for a post-baccalaureate.

      1. kelly

        John is wrong. Oregon State does not have different in-state/out-of-state tuition costs for their ONLINE degrees. They do have different tuition scales for on campus degrees. The $40,000 John is referencing would be for an out-of-state on campus student, but $17,000 is still the rate for the ONLINE degree this article is talking about.

          1. Glencora Borradaile Post author

            anonymous is correct in his estimate. It will be under $30K with fees, etc. It is still a financially feasible option, but I do wish we could give our Oregon taxpayers a deal.

  2. Chad

    will the post-bacc degree online have any opportunities for internships? I am afraid that is why I never got a job offer from my first degree (Film Studies) I never had any real world experience. and now 10 years later I am in a manufacturing job with layoff rumors every day. I wonder if I could intern while keeping my current job?

  3. Watson

    Having recently looked into this program as a person who holds a 4 year degree already – I can tell you the tuition for the program (instate or out of state) is $461 per credit hour. 60 credits x $461/hr = $27,660 this 2013-2014 school year. The ‘total’ program cost with the other fees is $30,000. It isn’t cheap. I’m considering it, but the high tuition cost is really making me consider other options.

    Yes it doesn’t require some of the ‘electives’ that other undergraduates will have to take, but that is because the program is only open to people who already have the coursework to be admitted at a senior level.

  4. David

    Yes, thanks for clearing up the tuition confusion. I am an Oregon resident, and I am seriously looking into this program. My undergraduate degree is in physics, and I’m wanting something that would make me more attractive in the job market. Perhaps a minor in CS? Anyway, the tuition is a sticking point for me; I’m underemployed (why else would I be going back to school?) and do not want more student loans, if they were even available.

    I’m also curious how effective the program will be; often CS questions are best answered “live,” without email delays and attempts to describe coding problems remotely. Potential nightmare. Is there anyone in the program already who can comment on this?

    1. Philip

      David! Awwww yeaaahhh another physics major! Woo Woo!

      That aside, I have no answers to your questions and I wonder the same things…

      Are there job placement statistics for this post bacc program? I’d really like to know how many were employed within six months of graduating this program. They make the entry seem easy enough, but whether unemployed folks like David and I, what matters is whether we will have the skills to be marketable and good candidates for jobs.

      I’m filling out the application anyway though.

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