ETSU announces OpenBUCS free online course system

Beginning this fall, East Tennessee State University will offer free college courses through the Open Buccaneer University Course System (OpenBUCS), university officials announced today (Tuesday, May 14). 

The emergence of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) precipitated the development of the OpenBUCS initiative. But what makes the ETSU program unique is a path to actual college credit.

MOOCs began in recent years, with notable programs established through a partnership between Harvard University and MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and by Stanford University. Today, the Harvard and MIT program has 25 MOOC courses with 675,000 students, and Stanford has more than 3 million students in 100 courses. And, other institutions across the country are following suit.

“Higher education is changing rapidly, and (MOOCs) are having a phenomenal influence,” explained Dr. Karen King, ETSU vice provost for eLearning. “These free courses are created so that enrollment is open. Students move at their own pace, interact with each other online, interact with the content. There are a lot of different models out there – some are on the semester system, while some are shorter. Some do not have an active, present instructor, and some do.

“When we began looking at this, and at all that is happening in online education, I started asking how this could apply to ETSU,” she continued. “How can we take what they’ve done and make our own unique model that can help ETSU and students throughout our region?”

After months of planning and brainstorming involving the Committee for 125 – the group formed and tasked by ETSU President Dr. Brian Noland with exploring and developing ideas to help guide the university into its second century – as well as the ETSU Office of eLearning and various academic and administrative groups, OpenBUCS was formed.

OpenBUCS offers an opportunity for anyone to take free online courses, but also provides an optional path to earning college credit at a substantial discount from full college course tuition.

Participating students taking a free OpenBUCS course will earn a certificate of completion. If they decide they want to go further and earn three hours of academic credit for the course, they may elect to pay a “pre-credit assessment fee” of $150 and take tests on the coursework. Upon successful completion of the tests, they may pay an additional $150 fee to obtain the actual academic credit via an evaluation of learning outcomes. In the current, 2012-13 academic year, the cost of three credit hours is $912, so the cost of obtaining credit through an OpenBUCS course would be roughly one-third that of a regular course.

This has a number of advantages for students, according to King.

“OpenBUCS will help students throughout our state by increasing access to education, reducing cost, and potentially reducing the time it takes to graduate,” she said. “I think this will help a lot of people who might not have been to school in a while, or perhaps students in high school who aren’t really sure if they’re prepared for college, to ‘test the water’ before they begin college. They can take a course for free and see how they do. It could be a good barometer for them.”

Two pilot courses will be offered through OpenBUCS this fall: “U.S. History Since 1877” (History 2020) and “Introduction to Music” (Music 1030). Both courses are general education courses and part of the core curriculum.

For more information, visit, call the Office of eLearning at 1-855-590-ETSU (3878), or email


Kimberly Crews said…

Thanks for sharing this article that describes how students could actually get credit for a MOOC. I wasn't sure how these courses could actually be taken for credit. As I read about how post-secondary institutions in the U.S. need to change to match the diversity of students and lifestyles, it is great to see ETSU being a leader in innovating programming.

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