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At Udacity, our mission is to set up students for success. From the earliest days of Udacity, we always loved to try new things. We started the first truly massive MOOC; we invented an entirely new interactive, scalable learning experience; we also were first to partner with academic institutions to leverage the MOOC platform into credit-bearing and degree-bearing offerings; and we are first in working with the tech industry to jointly develop training for skills necessary for employment around the world.

Our desire to innovate is now leading us to our next chapter.

We have always been dissatisfied with the finishing rates of our MOOCs. We simply couldn’t imagine a future of higher education that leaves 95% of its students behind. Relative to the goal of providing high-quality education to the most students possible, we believed our team could build a much better product.

So, we have experimented with new forms of online education that go way beyond the basic MOOC. We added services in the form of personalized feedback for student projects and online help from coaches. And we added verified certification for course projects and exams. Taking all of this into account, we have been building a cohesive student experience for the last twelve months that we have started rolling out.

In our collaboration with SJSU, we have had the opportunity to compare our new model to conventional college classes. We find that with mentoring and student support services, we achieve an average 71% pass rate. This is equivalent to the pass rates instructors achieve on SJSU’s campus, for the same classes. And in Statistics, our pass rate of 83% even surpassed SJSU’s on-campus pass rate of 76% for all students.

If you followed the recent news coverage, this may come as a surprise. Fast Company and others focused on a much smaller and earlier pilot with SJSU, in which our pass rates were lower. But today our pass rates rival those for on-campus education, at 10% of the costs. If our results held for all college classes, we could soon say goodbye to student debt!

Going forward, we are now offering coaches to all our students as well as verified certification for their final projects, starting with our most popular classes. These for-pay offers are optional. While doing this, we will keep our course content (videos and quizzes) open and free for everyone who benefits from the old model. But, we will work relentlessly to improve our offerings to set up all students for success. Our new model forms the basis for our collaboration with Georgia Tech, which now offers an entire degree at 15% of the tuition costs of their on-campus equivalent.

To innovate further, we have teamed up with industry giants like AT&T and Salesforce, to teach students critical skills required in the tech industry. We believe industry is in a unique position to know what knowledge and skills students need to get jobs and advance their careers. Our new Data Science & Big Data curriculum is a good example. Courses are built with top industry experts from Facebook, MongoDB, and Cloudera. These new classes are specifically designed to help our students find employment in the tech industry to reduce the skills gap.

We very much welcome the public discussion about us, our offerings, and the future of higher education. This is an important conversation for all people across the world. Udacity remains committed to setting up our students for success and making high-quality education accessible and affordable for all.

Sebastian Thrun
CEO and Co-Founder, Udacity
Clarissa Shen
Clarissa Shen
Clarissa Shen is the Chief Operating Officer for Udacity. She joined as Udacity’s first business hire leading all business functions. Prior to Udacity, she co-founded a K-12 start-up, led digital change at Apollo Group, and advised Fortune 500 and government clients throughout Greater China, Asia, and Europe as a management consultant with Deloitte/Monitor Group. Clarissa has also managed a Google Top 10 digital marketing team, and led an internationally-renowned touring contemporary dance company. Clarissa graduated magna cum laude with a BA in English and Environmental Studies from Williams College, and holds an MBA from Harvard Business School.