In the Chronicle of Higher Education, economist Richard Vedder writes:
"Why doesn’t someone—say, the Gates Foundation—hire 100 or so stellar professors in 20 disciplines to offer perhaps 150 to 200 absolutely superb courses online, with testing administered by an outside agency (say, the ACT, SAT, or Underwriter’s Laboratories)? Even paying each professor $100,000 per course and allowing for 100 percent overhead, this would cost $30- to $40-million. There would be some expenses for administration and a need to redo lectures every few years, but the whole thing is within the financial capacity of several foundations in the private sector. The upshot would be that a student taking about 32 of the courses would have the equivalent of a B.A. degree, and it could be offered to the student free (with modest per-student private or government subsidies) or at very modest cost.
The “Wikipedia” in the title to this blog suggests that perhaps the core of courses taught by superstars could be augmented by open-source courses provided by others with expertise. If we can offer very useful encyclopedias for free online, maybe we can do the same for other compilations and certifications of knowledge.
Universities spend billions annually researching everything under the sun—but precious little on R&D into their own business, specifically into cheap ways to disseminate higher forms of knowledge."
MP: In addition to the educational benefits of this proposal, it would also be a great antidote to the "administrative bloat" problem in U.S. colleges, which is one of the main reasons that tuition costs keep rising: to finance administrative overhead.
Update: Buddy Pacifico mentions Academic Earth, which now offers 11 bachelor's degrees online, mostly from the University of Maryland, but also two from the London School of Economics (economics, and politics and international relations).