It was big news last fall when Colorado State University-Global Campus became the first college in the United States to grant credit to students who passed a MOOC, or massive open online course.
For students, it meant a chance to get college credit on the cheap: $89, the cost of the required proctored exam, compared with the $1,050 that Colorado State charges for a comparable three-credit course.
That is a big discount.
Yet almost a year after Global Campus made the announcement, officials are still waiting for their first credit bargain-hunters.
Not one student has taken the university up on its offer.
Jon Bellum, the provost, said the university had not expected a deluge of transfer credits from Udacity, the MOOC provider it is working with. The offer applied to only a single MOOC, in computer science, and the credits might be useful only to students who intended to finish their degrees at Global Campus.
The Colorado university is not the only one that has noticed a lack of activity on the pathways between MOOCs and credit-bearing programs.
The Council of Adult and Experiential Learning, through its LearningCounts program, helps adult students assemble evidence of outside-the-classroom learning into portfolios that can be redeemed for credit at some colleges.
After free online courses exploded onto the scene, the council expected that freelance learners would come calling in hope of converting their MOOC success into college credit.
But none did.
"It's not happening as quickly as we had hoped," says Chari Leader Kelley, vice president of LearningCounts. One student had recently received nine credits toward a degree at Excelsior College, a nonprofit online institution, for her work with materials from MIT OpenCourseWare, a vault of free, static course materials that predates MOOCs. But nobody has attempted to redeem coursework from edX, Coursera, or Udacity, the three largest MOOC platforms, says Ms. Kelley.
The council has not yet advertised its services directly to MOOC students, she notes, adding that she believes prior-learning assessment still offers a "huge opportunity" for students to get college credit for free courses.
At the same time, data from MOOC providers suggest that many of the people who register for the free online courses already have college degrees. "As I've learned more about the students in the MOOCs, I've become more educated about my expectations," says Ms. Kelley.
She is not the only one thinking that way. Daphne Koller, a co-founder of Coursera, cited the same reason when explaining why that company, which built its reputation on MOOCs, had decided to pursue partnerships with public universities that would integrate its technology into the institutions' tuition-based curricular offerings.
Open courses, even massive ones, cannot "really move the needle on fundamental educational problems," said Ms. Koller in an interview with The Chronicle in May.
In the months since Global Campus first expressed a willingness to award transfer credits directly, there have been stirrings of larger-scale efforts to get colleges to award formal credit for MOOC learning. Lawmakers in California and Florida drafted bills aimed at making state universities give credit to students who pass certain MOOCs.
But it remains to be seen how common it will be for college students in those states to get credit for MOOCs. Florida last week enacted a milder version of the original bill proposed there; the new law calls for "rules that enable students to earn academic credit for online courses, including massive open online courses, prior to initial enrollment at a postsecondary institution."
The California bill has undergone a number of revisions, including language that would give university faculty members greater oversight of which MOOCs might be worthy of credit. That bill remains in committee.
The various partnerships between MOOC providers and colleges can give the appearance that this new species of online education is making swift, possibly disruptive inroads. Indeed, the videos, automatically graded homework assignments, and data tools that Coursera, edX, and Udacity developed for their massive open online courses could be used by professors in their credit-bearing courses.
However, when it comes to granting credit to students who take a free-floating MOOC instead of a tuition-based course at a traditional university, institutions remain largely in control of what courses they will abide and how many credits they will allow students to transfer in from such sources.
The American Council on Education, which advises college presidents on policy, has evaluated eight MOOCs—four from Coursera and four from Udacity—and recommended to its members that students who pass those courses should be awarded transfer credits. It remains to be seen how many of those colleges will take the council's advice.
Some have expressed interest in at least dipping their toes in the water.
The University Professional & Continuing Education Association, a Washington-based group, has received a contract from the council to study how well students from the council-approved MOOCs perform in subsequent college courses.
In setting up the research project, the association identified seven institutions willing to award transfer credit to students who have passed those free courses, says Ray Schroeder, associate vice chancellor for online learning at the University of Illinois at Springfield, who is directing the study.
The seven institutions, which include a mix of public and for-profit universities, are the American Public University system, Central Michigan University, Kaplan University, Regis University, the State University of New York's Empire State College, University of Maryland University College, and Western Carolina University.
"We expect to see a number of students at those universities who will be receiving credit for the fall term," says Mr. Schroeder.
That number is likely to be on the order of hundreds rather than thousands, he guesses. That's not a revolution, not yet anyway. But it is greater than zero.