No matter what the Univerity of Phoenix or Strayer commercials say, academia has always attached a negative stigma to online education. But Coursera, recently crowned last year’s best new startup by TechCrunch, is slowly changing that perception.

According to its website, Coursera is a social entrepreneurship venture that offers high quality online college courses from high quality universities for free. Thirty-three reputable schools from around the globe have joined with Coursera to provide this service, including the likes of Stanford, Brown, Princeton, Duke, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and the University of Melbourne.

Five of Coursera’s courses have recently been approved by the American Council on Education, which represents another huge step towards the legitimacy of online education. This approval means that students who have taken these courses can use them as credits when transferring towards a brick-and-mortar university.

The implications of this online venture’s success are enormous. Coursera provides financially challenged college students the opportunity to take Ivy League-level classes online without having to either get accepted into an Ivy League university or paying Ivy League tuition.

If Coursera continues its trend towards success, it would be safe to say that higher level education will be drastically changed forever. The increased access to previously unattainable classes might change the college landscape in ways we have never seen.

Of course, anyone who has had the blessing to go to college would say that there is much more to school than just the classes, and that a collection of online classes could never possibly encapsulate the entire college experience or even a complete college education. But still, Coursera represents a huge shift that is also being seen in other areas of society in the past few years: the shift towards the internet. This internet business’ success or failure over the next several years will have an important role in the future of academia.

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