Should you pay for a verified statement of accomplishment? Updated for 2015


Should you pay for a verified statement of accomplishment


A lot has changed since I last wrote a post on whether you should pay for a verified certificate from a MOOC. If you’re just finding me now, my project is to use massive open online courses – MOOCs – to get an education equivalent to an MBA, at a fraction of the cost of a regular MBA degree. I don’t plan to receive any sort of credential for my studies, but I have sought to publicly demonstrate my efforts and my accomplishments, mainly through this website.

Back when I started my No-Pay MBA, all certificates were free. First Coursera and then edX introduced an identity-verified certificate for a fee, but these two major MOOC providers were still giving away honor-code certificates for free to anyone who completed all the requirements of their courses. At that time, I didn’t see much additional value for an identity-verified certificate over a non-identity verified one. So although I’ve taken over 25 MOOCs to date and have racked up a virtual stack of Statements of Accomplishment and Honor Code Certificates, I haven’t yet paid for a single one .

But things have changed in the world of MOOCs. Coursera is no longer offering free certificates in any of its courses. It’s $49 (or more) for an identity-verified certificate, or no certificate at all. EdX is moving in a similar direction, though in some of their courses it is still possible to get a free Honor Code Certificate. I’m a huge fan of MOOCs and MOOC providers; they’re providing an incredibly valuable service to learners all over the world. Charging for proof that you completed a course seems a smart move on their part. But it does pose a challenge for people like me. 

I’ve set my benchmark at $1000 for a complete MBA education. If you’re going to start paying for certificates for every course, the $1000 MBA education becomes untenable pretty quickly. While I’ve called my project the No-Pay MBA, I’m not at all opposed to paying for elements of the world-class education I’m getting. I am, however, very discerning about how to allocate my scarce resources. If you’re taking an entire degree’s worth of courses and you start paying for certs at $50 a pop, (up to $100 for some courses), before long you’re looking at some serious cash. There is a lot I could do with $4,000, and I’m not sure that spending that money on course certificates is the best use of my money. 


Last time I posted on this topic, my contention was that employers and most other people you’d want to present with your MOOC-based studies wouldn’t know the difference between the two kinds of certificates. I stand by that assertion, since I imagine it’s unclear even for many MOOC students.

Let me break it down for you. To receive an identify-verified certificate (which is what both Coursera and edX are selling in their courses), in addition to paying for the certificate the student has to prove their identify on each login to the system. This is done using photos taken by webcam and matched to a government-issued ID. Students also log a typing pattern, for subsequent verification.

As I’ve said before, I’m not sure any employers would dig deep enough to know or care about the difference between verified and non-verified certificates. However, if you claim to have taken courses that make you a more valuable employee, they may very well want to see some sort of proof. Regardless of who you’re hoping to impress, I do see some value in having a certificate to hang on your virtual wall, whether that wall is your LinkedIn profile, your resume, or your portfolio here on No-Pay MBA.


So what should you do?


Here is my updated advice for MOOC students in the brave new world of no free certificates.


Get certificates for some, but not all of your courses

If you’re only planning to take a few courses, you may want to get certificates for all of them. But if you’re taking many courses, be selective and choose just a few courses for which you’ll seek certificates. People’s eyes tend to glaze over after looking at about 5 certificates. Once you’ve demonstrated with a small number of certificates that you are capable of succeeding in online courses, you can more easily make the case that you’ve completed other valuable course work for which you didn’t seek certification.


Think in terms of skill sets

Rather than acquiring a random set of certificates for courses that bear no relationship to one another, use your certificates to demonstrate mastery of a skill set. Five intro-level certificates on different subjects are far less impressive than certificates for a series of five courses that build towards mastery. You might want to rely on specializations or series put together by the MOOC providers, or design your own course series.


Pair certificates with work examples in your portfolio

A powerful way to boost the value of any single certificate is to present the certificate alongside examples of the work you have done as a result of your coursework. Increasingly, portfolios are valued more highly than resumes. When you present evidence of your abilities next to your certificates, you make a compelling case that your education means something. The portfolio feature on No-Pay MBA is set up this way for a reason! Choose certificates that you can back up with a tangible project, whether or not you complete the project as part of the course itself.


Evisors 3


Use loss aversion to your advantage

People who purchase certificates tend to finish their courses at a much higher rate than those who don’t. There are many reasons why this might be the case; perhaps those people who paid for certificates were more motivated or committed to the course to begin with. But there is also a robust literature in psychology to suggest that people don’t like to pay for something and then not get full value from it, whether or not there is any chance for the money to be refunded. Anecdotally, many MOOC students have commented on this blog that paying for certificates helps keep them motivated. Therefore, if there is a course you really want to take but are worried you might have difficulty finishing, that is precisely the course certificate you should be paying for.


Explore alternative payment arrangements

Coursera offers financial aid to students who make a compelling case that they need help to pay for their courses. Another strategy is to approach your current employer to find out if they would be willing to provide training to you in MOOC form. Fifty or $100 is not a lot of cash when compared to other methods of employee training. Your employer may also be impressed by your initiative, especially if you can tie your proposed course of study to tangible outcomes that benefit the company.


My last blog post on this topic generated a lot of discussion about the value of certificates. If you’ve been following the conversation, or if you’re new on this site, let’s hear your take. Do you pay for verified MOOC certificates?

Higher education: Is the credential what makes it count?

This month the Lumina Foundation launched a national dialogue  focused on transforming the credentialing system for higher education in the US. Here is my contribution to that discussion. I encourage readers to comment on this post or to add their voices to the discussion started by the Lumina Foundation.

Graduation caps


Recently a reader of my blog sent me a link to a forum where a fascinating debate was taking place, spurred by the news that Coursera is phasing out its free Statements of Accomplishment for people who complete MOOCs. This debate crystallized around the question of whether credentials - not just MOOC credentials, but credentials in general - were worth anything.

“Portfolio trumps certificate,” says one contributor.

“Not in my country,” says another.  “If you don’t have a certificate, good luck going through HR.”

“This is what’s wrong with employment,” a third chimes in. “I say this as a teacher who offers degree classes. You can earn a certificate without learning a damn thing.”

The discussion goes on at some length, but you get the idea.

So which is it? We all know that credentials (degrees in particular) are an absolute requirement to get certain jobs. But do they have to be? Can a portfolio ever win out over a credential? And what happens when Coursera completely gets rid of Statements of Accomplishment? Will MOOC students be obliged to pay for verified certificates in order for the courses to “count”?


How credentials work

Here at No-Pay MBA, we start from the premise that education has real value even when it it isn’t credentialed. In this article, I’ll explore credentials - what they are, what role they play in the marketplace, and whether it might possible to capture value from non-credentialed education.

To get started, let’s talk about the different types of credentials and look at how they function in the job market. I find it helpful to start by dividing credentials into two broad categories - degrees and all other credentials. I’ve heard David Blake, the CEO of Degreed refer to these categories as horizontal and vertical credentials. According to Blake, degrees are horizontal credentials; they level you up to a whole new category of job opportunities, lifting the floor underneath you.

Vertical credentials can be added on top of horizontal credentials, but they can’t be aggregated up to a horizontal credential at the next level. Most professional training courses fall into this category. Many fields recognize some type of non-degree credentials, but unlike degrees, these credentials are not generally understood outside of their field. Often if a non-degree credential is required, it must come with a degree, in the way that a teacher needs both a bachelor’s degree and a teaching certificate.  


Are MOOCs just Sesame Street for adults?

SesameStreet-622x453So what are MOOC course certificates, and what could or should they be? Should students be able to use them to build up to a horizontal credential like a degree? Or are MOOC certificates better understood as vertical credentials that are only valuable when stacked on top of a degree? Or maybe they’re neither - maybe MOOCs are best understood as edu-tainment, Sesame Street for knowledge-hungry adults. In which case, who cares if they come with any kind of credential at all?!

We can think about the possibilities for MOOC credentialing along a continuum. At one end of the spectrum, MOOCs are “just for fun,” personal edification that shouldn’t be taken seriously as professional training. There are plenty of people who will tell you that MOOCs are education for education’s sake, and that it’s impossible to capture any real value from them (in the form of a salary increase, for example).

At the next step along the continuum, MOOCs might be converted into more standard credentials. EdX’s partnership with Arizona State University is an example of this kind of arrangement; students can now take their entire first year of coursework at ASU via MOOC. After finishing the coursework, the MOOC certificates can be converted for credit at ASU. The same people who are saying that MOOCs are not capable of producing meaningful educational outcomes pooh-pooh such schemes as “credit laundering.”

At No-Pay MBA, we are at the opposite end of the spectrum. We believe it is possible to leverage a MOOC education for tangible career advancement, with or without a credential. And we think it’s only a matter of time before employers realize how valuable MOOCs can be. (In fact, they are already starting to.)


“If you don’t have a certificate, good luck going through HR.”

One big change that could bring efficiency into the hiring process would be the removal of the gatekeeping function of credentials that aren’t directly relevant to the jobs they keep people out of. The credential isn’t typically the only, or even the most important factor that determines whether you get a job, but as we all know, the lack of a credential can prevent you from getting one. But does it have to be this way?

I’m not opposed to degrees by any means; I have two of them, and I value them both, as well as the education they represent. But I do find it rather silly that HR requires a master’s degree - any master’s degree - for my current job, even though my master’s program in geography has very little relevance to my day-to-day work.

Here’s another thing I find a bit nonsensical about the way horizontal credentials work. Most people get their degrees fairly early in their careers and have finished their formal higher education before they are even 10 years into a work life that may span four decades.

The credential that you earn at age 22 or 25 doesn’t signal that you are at the top of your field, but rather that you are prepared to begin working in that field. Very often, the credential whose absence can keep someone out of a job doesn’t even signal work readiness for a particular field but instead serves as a signal of general competence. (Art history majors, anyone? Geography majors, for that matter?) And yet, even 15 years into a career, not having a degree or not having the right degree can still mean that you aren’t able to get a job that you are capable of doing.

One of the exciting things about MOOC education is that it is laying bare some of the contradictions in credentialed education. Why should it be necessary to have a degree just for the sake of having a degree, if there are other ways to get an education? If you can do the work, why should the credential you hold matter at all?

If the only reason to have a degree is because HR said so (not a very good reason), then it might be possible for MOOCs and other non-credentialed education to offer other pathways to employment. The company that finds alternative ways to select candidates for work readiness stands to clean up in the talent market.


Multiple pathways from education to employment

Of course, I don’t think HR policies are going to change tomorrow. But I do think it is possible for people who already hold degrees to demand that their efforts at continuing education be taken seriously. Let me start: I have a master’s degree, and I am telling you that my business education, which is entirely MOOC-based, is more relevant, useful, and applicable, than either of my degrees when it comes to preparing me for the work that I do. And I can back up that claim with a portfolio that shows how I’ve put my education into practice. (I’ll be publishing it on this website very soon.) Can I get you (employer) to trust me when I say that I have a business education equivalent to an MBA? I believe that I can.

I imagine a future in which there are multiple pathways from education to employment. The traditional, degree-based pathway remains. But non-credentialed educational pathways are also available, when backed up by strong portfolios. As a middle ground, competency-based programs can credential learning that takes place outside of traditional universities.

Wouldn’t many people benefit from this kind of flexibility? I know I have.

From Blogger to Business Woman



It’s hard to believe it’s been almost two years since I started the No-Pay MBA project and wrote the first words on this blog. When I started this project, my goal was simply to answer the question, “Would it be possible to create my own MBA using free online courses and other cheap or free materials?” I set up a website to document my studies and a blog focused on answering that question.

During the past two years, my thinking about online education has evolved just as much as my thinking about business has. First, I was able to answer that original question of whether it is possible to get a great business education – an MBA equivalent – using free online resources. The answer is a resounding yes! Second, I discovered just how many people are interested in low-cost, accessible business education.  There are thousands of us around the world.

With these two realizations the focus of the No-Pay MBA website shifted from documenting and legitimizing my own studies to serving as a resource to other people seeking to get a business education without having to spend their life savings.

Now, I’m coming full circle. June 2015 marks a critical transition for No-Pay MBA. Over the course of this month, No-Pay MBA will go from a blog site to a web-based business.

No-Pay MBA’s mission is to provide information, advice, and support to help you get a great business education, equivalent to an MBA, based on the content that is freely available on the web. In launching a business, my hope is that No-Pay MBA can provide more and better services to a greater number of people.

I can’t wait to start watching this community grow and to see what you will contribute to it.

Through my own studies, I’ve discovered that a true business education must be a social experience; you can’t get the equivalent of an MBA just by taking courses. A business education involves getting out of the classroom, building a network, presenting yourself with confidence, and learning how to cooperate and negotiate.

That’s why in addition to providing a general framework for studying business via MOOC and advice on how to craft your personal business education, I aim to create a community where you can experience the social benefits that come with a traditional university education.

For me, that community is the most valuable thing that No-Pay MBA has to offer. I’ve tried to launch as quickly as humanly possible in large part because I can’t wait to start watching this community grow and to see what you will contribute to it.

I’m planning a lot of exciting activities throughout the month, both to mark the transition from blog to business and to make sure I answer all of your questions in the lead-up to launch.  These activities will also include chances to meet and interact with your peers, people from all over the world who are considering or have already started No-Pay MBAs. You can stay informed about everything that’s coming by pre-registering to start your No-Pay MBA if you haven’t done so already.

Coursolve Digital Internships: Good for MOOC Students, Good for Businesses



The basic hypothesis of the No-Pay MBA is simple: thanks to the advent of massive open online courses,  a person who would be capable of completing a master’s in business administration at a university can get an equivalent education without paying business school tuition, using freely available resources.

Most people I talk to seem to accept this premise. The general consensus is that it is indeed possible to learn online and that at least in terms of course content, the education I am getting is equivalent to a regular MBA.

Where things get complicated is at the end of the education. How will my studies be recognized? Who will care that I did enough courses to match a traditional MBA? The job market is degree-driven. Without that piece of paper will I have anything of value when I “graduate” in May 2016?

I’m not bothered by the fact that I won’t be getting a degree because I can see a different path to legitimacy – importantly, one that does not revolve around blogging and does not rely on any special advantage that I might have as the first person to publicly replicate the MBA using MOOCs.


Turn a MOOC education into career advancement

The key to converting a MOOC education from personal development to career advancement is to put that education into practice in a job.  We all know that in many industries a bachelor’s degree is a gatekeeper – if you don’t have one, you simply won’t be hired. But if you already have a degree and have been working for a few years, direct experience almost always trumps classroom education. Your degree may help get you in the door, but your experience and your performance on the job ultimately overshadow your degree in their importance.

When you use your MOOC business education in a work setting, you turn it from a series of facts you’ve learned on your laptop into a set of skills you can leverage for a promotion or in your next job search.

Okay, I can hear you saying, that’s all fine and good if you’re already working and can convince your employer to let you take on new responsibilities. But what if you’re not working? Or if your employer is unwilling or unable to increase your responsibilities? Or if you’d like to change industries and can’t find a relevant way to employ your new skills in your current job?


Digital internships for MOOC students

For MOOC students, this is where Coursolve comes in. If you’ve been reading the blog, then you may know that I’ve been excited about Coursolve since learning about their work as a student in Foundations of Business Strategy.  Coursolve connects learners from anywhere in the world with businesses and organizations through “digital internships,” collaborative short-term projects that are often linked with MOOC course content.

As a student in Foundations of Business Strategy, I used Coursolve’s platform to find a business for whom I could conduct a strategic analysis as a final course project. Coursolve itself had posted a strategic analysis internship, and given my interest in all things MOOC,  I chose to conduct a strategic analysis for Coursolve. The best part? Based on the quality of my work, Coursolve hired me to work on business development – not because I had an MBA but because they had seen how I work first hand.


Businesses can benefit from digital internships

Now that I’m launching a business, I need Coursolve’s platform again. Over the next several months, I’ll be posting my own digital internship – only this time I’m a business owner looking for talented students who want to use their skills in a practical setting. There are several reasons why as a small business owner it makes sense for me to post a digital internship on Coursolve.

First, I’m still learning, and I’m looking to hone my management skills. A digital internship is a low-stakes way for me to improve my ability to manage people who are not physically located in the same place – a key skill given the structure of my business.

Second, I’m looking to build relationships with talented people. While I don’t have immediate hiring needs, I’m excited to work with people who can help build momentum for my business and who I may one day be able to employ.

Third, I’m building my brand. By providing educational experiences to students I’m both paying forward my own experience as an intern and generating good will towards the No-Pay MBA.

And by the way, these benefits don’t just apply to small businesses. Larger businesses can also source talent, promote their brands, and provide management experience to their employees through digital internships.


Join the No-Pay MBA’s digital internship on Coursolve

The No-Pay MBA internship is designed to be done in conjunction with the course Foundations of Business Strategy, taught by Michael Lenox of the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. If you’re interested in working with me on this digital internship, here’s how to sign up.

1.  Register for Foundations of Business Strategy through Coursera. It’s one of Coursera’s on-demand courses, so it’s available all the time.

2.  Go to Click on the Login button and create a profile.

3.  Using the menu in the upper right corner, click Browse under the word Needs. The No-Pay MBA internship is listed in the Business Strategy/Innovation category.

The project involves applying several of the strategic analyses Professor Lenox teaches in his course to the No-Pay MBA business I am launching next month. You will put those analyses together into a final report,  which will become part of your educational portfolio. If you do an outstanding job, I’ll be happy to write you a recommendation. I’m looking forward to seeing what you come up with.

Tools and Tips for Solopreneurs Managing Global Teams


I am what you might call a solopreneur, which Urban Dictionary defines as “an entrepreneur who works alone, ‘solo,’ running their business single-handedly. They might have contractors for hire, yet have full responsibility for the running of their business.” This describes No-Pay MBA to a tee. While I am in some ways a one-woman show, I have managed to assemble a team of consultants who are helping me get to launch day of what I’m calling No-Pay MBA 2.0.

One of the most exciting things about the No-Pay MBA project is its global nature. Almost every country in the world is represented among my readers. Likewise, those who have pre-registered for No-Pay MBAs come from every place imaginable - from Durban to Dallas, Mexico City to Mumbai.

My team is similarly global. Andrea is an American living in Rome, and she’s helping with social media and communications. Adam, a British guy living in Mexico, is on web development. If you take a look at some of his work, I think you’ll see why I’m so excited about what he’s doing to help me build the profile section of the new and improved No-Pay MBA website. Greg in Australia is helping with front-end layout and design; and Kevin Meldau, who is South African and living in Florida, is working on graphic design. He’s just created a new logo that I’m really excited about, and you can see other samples of his work here.

If you count both our places of birth and the countries in which we currently reside, this team of five represents seven countries. Only two of us are in the same time zone.

I’m studying management in my MOOC coursework, but working with this team to launch this business has also been a great experience in project management. I tend to enjoy the challenge of pulling together a great product on a tight deadline. Working with a geographically dispersed team has added a level of complexity to this endeavor that has forced me to up my game.


Below are some of the tools I’ve found helpful and some tips for managing a working relationship even when you’re miles apart.



Tools and tips for managing a global team

You are probably very familiar with the big dogs of remote teamwork - Google Drive and Dropbox for sharing documents, Skype and Hangout for communication.

But here are a few other free tools you may not be aware of.


Tools for working across time zones

World Time Buddy

World Time Buddy is a handy reference for scheduling when you’re in separate time zones. The free version allows you to compare three time zones.

World Time Buddy for scheduling



Time Trade

I’ve just started using TimeTrade to schedule appointments. This helpful service allows me to specify when I’d like to schedule which type of appointments and allows clients to book time on my calendar themselves.

Google Calendar

And of course there’s that old standby Google Calendar. What you might not know about Google Calendar is that it automatically translates calendar invites into the recipient’s time zone.


Tools for managing work


Trello is a simple but powerful application for visual project management. It uses a system called Kanban, in which the project is mapped out using cards. The cards can be moved and rearranged to indicate level of priority and the stage each task is in. Adam and I are using Trello to collaborate on web development.

trello board


Gantt Charts

I’m a big fan of Gantt charts for mapping out and visualizing the project timeline. I like to create my own Gantt charts in Google Sheets and then add my team members as collaborators, but there are plenty of free web-based tools that can be used for the same purpose. The chart below shows how I’ve color coded various elements to indicate which person is taking the lead. This article has some great suggestions.

No-Pay MBA work plan Gantt chart


Tools for finding talent


I used ODesk for the first time while assembling this team. If you haven’t heard of it, ODesk is one of several sites that act as a marketplace for freelancers to sell their services. These sites are all part of an emergent re-ordering of the workforce, which I find totally fascinating. If you’d like to better understand this new flexible work economy, The Economist had a great piece on the future of work a few months back.  


Yes, I am a solopreneur, but I don’t plan to stay solo forever. I’m using Coursolve, a digital internship platform, for my long game. I recently posted a No-Pay MBA project to the site, which I hope will help me further hone my management skills and build my network of talent. If you’re interested, you can join my project here.


Tips on managing a global team

Peter Drucker, who is sometimes called “the father of modern management” is reputed to have said that “organizational culture eats strategy for breakfast.” While the true origin of this quote is up for some debate, its wisdom is generally accepted. Human relationships are the most important part of any business. Creating strong relationships can be more difficult when your team members are not physically in the same place, but it’s still just as important.

Use video, even when it’s awkward.

Don’t underestimate the importance of seeing the face of the person you’re working with. I do a lot of work via email, but a call every once in a while goes a long way towards establishing the kind of human connection that fosters a good working relationship. Even when my connection speed is giving me grief, I still like to at least start face to face in any online call. Whether or not I turn my camera off, this little bit of face time helps to establish a connection.

Make sure consultants see their part in the whole.

It’s important for anyone working on your project to understand where they fit into the big picture, how you plan to use their work, and why it is critical to the success of the project.

Be clear about expectations.

Especially when working with consultants who are not full-time employees, it’s important to make sure that both parties are in agreement about what work is to be done, what constitutes a successful outcome, and of course, compensation.

Tell your people you appreciate their work.

This is so important.  Everyone needs to be recognized when they’ve done good work.

In that spirit, I’d like to close this post with a few shout-outs:

Andrea, thank you for being so organized and on top of things. You’ve cut my stress level tremendously and given me what feels like extra hours in the day to get things done.

Adam, thank you for your collaborative work style. I love that I am working with you on my site and that you’ve taken the time to understand my vision for it.

Greg, thank you for all your tips and pointers on SEO and for your great suggestions on design. I can’t wait to see what you come up with!

Kevin, I love your vision and your enthusiasm. Thank you for stepping up to fill a critical need at just the right time.

Guest post: Why I turned down a company-paid MBA for a No-Pay MBA

I’m pleased to share a guest post by Nick Switzer, who offers a tremendous example of how a MOOC MBA can be even more valuable than a traditional MBA. For those considering a No-Pay MBA, I expect you’ll find his story as inspiring and intriguing as I did. Enjoy! -Laurie


Why I turned down a company-paid MBA for a No-Pay MBA


Nick SwitzerEveryone pursuing a No-Pay MBA is doing so because they cannot afford a traditional paid, brick and mortar MBA, right? A No-Pay MBA is the only option; otherwise, we would all enroll in traditional MBAs, right?

Not necessarily.

I work for a fantastic company with great benefits. One of those benefits is tuition reimbursement. If I take university courses that pertain to my role at the company, then the company pays for my tuition. As an engineer transitioning to a more business-oriented engineering role, I needed some financial and business training. My managing director (let’s call him Steve) knew this, and during a one-on-one lunch he suggested that I pursue a traditional MBA, taking advantage of the company’s tuition reimbursement policy.

I was flattered. Steve was my manager’s manager, a role model in the company, and he was telling me that the company would fund my MBA! However, after some deliberation, I declined this offer in favor of a No-Pay MBA using Coursera and other MOOC providers.

Why did I do this? How could I turn down such a generous benefit from my company?

I’ll give you 5 big reasons.

1.  I value my time with my family.

When I started my No-Pay MBA, my wife and I were expecting our first child. My wife was a successful marketing manager for a Fortune 500 company at the time, with no plans to leave her role after maternity leave. I was committed to supporting her career, our family development, and my own career. I did not think it was possible to both perform well at my job and be a supportive father and husband, all while attending MBA classes and studying.

With a No-Pay MBA, I watched half of each weeks’ lectures in the same amount of time I would have spent in traffic commuting to off-site classes. Often I would do my courses while my child was sleeping, either early in the morning or late at night.

In this way, MOOCs allowed me to maximize time with my family.


2. I needed to learn quickly and apply my skills immediately.

In my new role, I needed business strategy and finance understanding immediately! Time lost taking the GMAT, GRE, selecting a program and applying meant real business opportunities lost. Through MOOCs, I was able to access top educational content within minutes of choosing my courses!

By the time director Steve suggested I start a paid MBA, I had already started 2 courses that were paying dividends in the office.

I immediately applied principles learned in class in the workplace with many co-workers who had graduated with paid MBAs, honing my learning in real-life scenarios.

Unlike a traditional MBA, I have the ability to share course materials directly with my co-workers as well. This has resulted in empowering my project teams to learn principles on the fly, when they need them most.


3. I wanted to choose my courses based on what would be most helpful at work.

One of the things I love most about MOOCs is the ability to craft my own curriculum.

I have a passion for data-driven decisions, so I am taking a 10-course Data Science specialization from Johns Hopkins as a focal point in my No-Pay MBA.

This type of curriculum flexibility and the ability to take courses from multiple top universities is simply unbeatable.

This was also helpful to my company because I was able to take the courses I needed immediately. I needed financial analysis and negotiation strategy, and I was able to take those courses right away.


4. I saved my company a lot of money.

In the recession of 2008, many companies suspended their tuition reimbursment programs for at least 6 months. I did not want to see my further education as a financial burden to my company.

As a responsible employee of my company, I made a serious cost-saving decision in pursuing a No-Pay MBA. This was an easy point for my director to understand.

My company is still investing in me, more in time commitment than in cash. This investment has paid off quickly, as my No-Pay MBA has armed me with frameworks that allow me to attack problems quickly.


5. I want MOOCs to succeed!

I believe broad, low-cost access to excellent educational materials will help our world, enriching lives and offering new paths to personal achievement and more stable economic conditions.

I want my daughters to live in a world where they have access to top-notch education without going into significant debt.

I want to see MOOCs succeed. What better way to help this happen than as a living example of the power of low-cost online education?


The Results

Since I started my No-Pay MBA, my wife and I have been fortunate enough to have two great little daughters. My wife has been promoted, and because our schedules aren’t in conflict, she has been able to go on several international work-trips while I take care of the kids after work.

On the job, I use frameworks and concepts from my courses every day. Thanks to my No-Pay MBA, I am totally comfortable having high-level financial and business strategy discussions with graduates from traditional MBA programs. I have also earned a promotion since starting this adventure in non-traditional education.

Bottom line: a No-Pay MBA aligned better with my goals of work-life balance and prioritization of my family than a standard MBA would have. It has been fantastic for my family, for my company and for me.


Nick Switzer is an engineer, a German-English technical translator, and a lifelong learner. To see his complete MOOC MBA transcript, visit

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