Her conclusions—that MOOCs provide a more suitable substitute for certain nonselective-college programs than for selective ones—are not necessarily as intriguing as her analysis, which frames the issue in economic terms.
Highly selective institutions like Stanford do not so much sell education programs and services for an upfront fee, Ms. Hoxby writes. Instead, they invest in promising students who are likely to attain wealth and influence after college. Only a fraction of those students will end up making significant gifts to the institution later in life, but those gifts subsidize the programs and services Stanford supplies to all its other students.
The sustainability of that “virtuous circle” depends on those talented students’ feeling a deep emotional connection to their alma mater, writes the Stanford professor. If selective colleges began granting credit to students who succeeded in their MOOCs, it could compromise the more traditional “human-capital investments” in their portfolios, she says.