The problem, San Jose State administrators told The New York Times, is that students who enroll in "massive online open courses" or MOOCS, often fail to complete them or to earn passing grades the first time.
In one pilot program, the university provides round-the-clock mentors to students taking three online remedial math courses. The mentors are hired by Udacity, a company that offers free online courses.
While the program only started in January, the university says early results are so promising it is expanding the math courses and adding courses in computers and psychology, the newspaper reported Monday. San Jose State charges $150 per course and offers the classes to its own students and to local high school and community college students.
San Jose State is also working with Anant Agarwal, an MIT professor, to determine if combining traditional classes with the free course he offers online in electrical circuits will help more students complete the class.
"We're in Silicon Valley, we breathe that entrepreneurial air, so it makes sense that we are the first university to try this," Mohammad Qayoumi, San Jose State president, told the Times. "In academia, people are scared to fail, but we know that innovation always comes with the possibility of failure. And if it doesn't work the first time, we'll figure out what went wrong and do better."