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Coursera partners with 10 universities for online classes

Online learning startup hopes partnership will improve the quality of the education as well as increasing access and graduation rates.

The University of Nebraska is one of the schools participating in the Coursera partnership.

Online learning startup Coursera has formed partnerships with 10 public universities and university systems to develop courses that can be taken for credit either online or in a blended classroom-online environment.

By exploring new uses for massive open online courses (MOOCs), the partnership aims to improve the quality of the education, as well as expand access and increase graduation rates for up to 1.25 million students at the schools, the Mountain View, Calif.-based company announced Wednesday.

The hope is that the program will encourage new teaching methods, as well as enhancing existing approaches by creating a "blended learning" experience that combines online video lectures with on-campus instruction that stresses classroom engagement. The platform could also allow instructors to access already-developed content and adapt it to their own needs.

"This new partnership with Coursera will be invaluable as we launch Open SUNY, which will give our students increased access to the online courses SUNY faculty offer in New York and worldwide," Nancy Zimpher, chancellor the State University of New York, said in a statement. "Working with Coursera presents a fantastic opportunity for higher education systems across the country to increase educational access, instructional quality and exposure, and degree completion."

Collaborating with Coursera in the program are the State University of New York (SUNY), the Tennessee Board of Regents, University of Tennessee System, University of Colorado System, University of Houston System, University of Kentucky, University of Nebraska, University of New Mexico, University System of Georgia, and West Virginia University.

U.S. colleges and universities in recent years have been ratcheting up their online offerings in an effort to improve graduation rates. More than 6.7 million students in the U.S. took at least one online course during the fall 2011 term, according to a recent survey conducted by the Babson Survey Research Group, an increase of 570,000 students over the previous year.

The rising popularity of MOOCs comes as state budgets for higher education are being slashed across the U.S., resulting in fewer spots for students in courses required for graduation. Proponents of the programs argue that credit for online courses would help students who are unable to register for impacted classes, possibly preventing expensive, extended stays in school.

Other online education providers have already developed programs with public universities. EdX launched a not-for-profit joint venture last year with Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to make education material available online for free.

Udacity partnered with San Jose State University in January to offer San Jose State Plus, a pilot program that presents seemingly unlimited class size to students often hobbled by oversubscribed courses. One Udacity computer science class currently has 250,000 students enrolled.