Are Coursera’s Online Specialization Certificates Worth the Cost?

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Coursera is now offering online “specializations” - certificates from participating colleges that students can use to demonstrate completion of a series of classes.

Coursera is known for offering hundreds of online free-to-the-public courses from colleges and organizations. Now, students can enroll in a pre-determined series of courses, pay a tuition fee, and earn a specialization certificate. Certificate options are continuing to grow and include topics such as “Data Science” from John Hopkins University, “Modern Musician” from Berklee, and “Fundamentals of Computing” from Rice University.

How to Earn a Coursera Certificate

In order to earn a certificate, students take a series of courses and follow a set track in each course. At the end of the series, students prove their knowledge by completing a capstone project. Is the cost worth the certification for these new Coursera programs? Here are a few of the pros and cons.

Specializations Allow Learners to Prove Their Knowledge to Employers

One of the major problems with Massively Open Online Classes (MOOCs) is that they don’t give students a way to prove what they’ve learned. Saying you “took” a MOOC could mean that you spent weeks poring over assignments or that you spent a few minutes clicking through freely available course modules. Coursera’s online specializations change that by mandating a set of required courses and keeping track of each student’s accomplishments in their database.

New Certificates Look Good in a Portfolio

By allowing students to print off a certificate (usually with the sponsoring college’s logo), Coursera provides physical evidence of learning. This makes it possible for students to students to use their certificates when making a case for themselves at job interviews or demonstrating professional development.

Specializations Cost Much Less Than College Programs

For the most part, the cost of specialization courses is reasonable. Some courses cost less than $40 and some certificates can be earned for less than $150. Taking a similar course through a university would likely cost much more.

Students Earn Certificates Through Demonstrating Their Knowledge

Forget about a big test at the end of the series. Instead, after completing the designated courses, you’ll demonstrate your knowledge and earn your certificate by completing a capstone project. Project-based assessment allows students to get hands-on experience and removes the pressure of test-taking.

Pay-As-You-Go Options and Financial Aid Are Available

You don’t have to pay for your specialization tuition all at once. Most online certificate programs allow students to pay as they enroll in each course. Surprisingly, funding is also available for students that demonstrate financial need. (Since this is not an accredited school, the financial aid is coming from the program itself and not from the government).

There’s a Huge Potential for Program Development

While online certificate options are limited now, there’s a huge possibility for future development. If more employers begin seeing the value in MOOCs, online certificate programs may become a viable alternative to the traditional college experience.

Specializations Are Un-tested

In addition to the pros of these Coursera certificates, there are a few cons. One of the downsides to any new online program is the potential for change. More than one college or institution has rolled out a certificate or credentialing program and later eliminated their offerings. If Coursera is no longer offering these programs five years down the road, a certificate with the seal of a more established institution may be more valuable on a resume.

Specializations are Unlikely to Be Honored by Colleges

Online certificates from accredited sites like Coursera are unlikely to be honored or considered for transfer credit by traditional schools. Online certificates programs are sometimes even seen as competing institutions by colleges that are eager to hold on to their online learning market share.

No-Cost MOOC Options Can Be Just as Good

If you’re just learning for fun, there may be no reason to pull out your wallet for a certificate. In fact, you could take the very same courses from Coursera for free.

Certificates Can Be Less Valuable

These certificates may be less valuable when compared to other non-accredited training. A certificate with a college’s logo may be a good way to make your resume stand out. But, be sure to consider what your employer really wants. For example, in the case of technology courses, many employers may prefer that you earn a nationally-recognized certification rather than earning a Coursera specialization certificate.

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Littlefield, Jamie. "Are Coursera’s Online Specialization Certificates Worth the Cost?" ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Littlefield, Jamie. (2021, February 16). Are Coursera’s Online Specialization Certificates Worth the Cost? Retrieved from Littlefield, Jamie. "Are Coursera’s Online Specialization Certificates Worth the Cost?" ThoughtCo. (accessed March 22, 2023).