Arizona State University Looks to Enroll 100 Million More Students by 2030

Arizona State University is aiming to enroll an additional 100 million students by 2030 through a free global education initiative to be launched in April.

The program, to be announced Thursday, will translate into 40 languages and put online the materials for five business courses, with the aim of reaching students in every corner of the globe. The program will use machine learning and artificial intelligence to teach and grade. The courses will confer academic credit as well as lead to a global management and entrepreneurship certificate.

The initiative is a new attempt by universities and private ventures to scale technology to reach more students and make degrees more affordable. Among the first attempts were Massive Open Online Courses, which emerged about a decade ago. Web-based MOOCs have had some success, with some courses reaching tens of thousands of students. But early on a small percentage completed the courses.

Bryan Alexander, a senior scholar at Georgetown University who writes about the future of education, said that many MOOCs suffered because they were little more than web-based textbooks and that a lot of them were poorly designed.

“The test for this program is going to be retention,” he said. “If you have a million people sign up but only 12 make it through the whole class, it will be a failure.”

Enrollment in the first round of classes will be limited to college graduates, but the program is slated to include undergraduates in the near future, said

Sanjeev Khagram,

the dean and director general of ASU’s Thunderbird School of Global Management, which is leading the program. Credits will be transferable to most schools and can be used to pursue a degree at ASU, he said.

This year the initiative will attempt to reach students in Iran, Kenya, Mexico, Indonesia, Egypt, India, Senegal, Brazil and Vietnam in their native languages. By the second year, the program will aim to expand across Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin American and to 25 languages. And by the fourth year it will be available in Europe and Central Asia.

Philip Thigo, a senior director for Thunderbird based in Nairobi, Kenya, said students will access the classes on their computer or smartphone, with courses taught by teams of professors who will appear as avatars. Students will work with classmates from different countries.

Mr. Thigo said the credential tied to the courses is likely to resonate with African students, especially if it can be leveraged to borrow money from a bank and build a business.


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“It gives you credibility,” Mr. Thigo said.

The program was created with the help of a $25 million gift from F. Francis Najafi, an Iranian immigrant to the U.S. who made millions in private equity. Dr. Khagram said the program would be funded through a combination of philanthropy and corporate and government partnership as well as support from ASU.

About 7% of the world’s population has a college degree, but the school is banking on strong demand. By 2035 more than 470 million people will be in the market for a degree, the school said. To meet that demand, the world would have to build eight universities that each service 40,000 students every week for the next 15 years, the school said.

Tuition at America’s public universities has nearly tripled since 1990. With President Biden looking to ease the burden for some students, experts explain how federal financial aid programs can actually contribute to rising costs. Photo: Storyblocks

Write to Douglas Belkin at [email protected]

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Appeared in the January 21, 2022, print edition as ‘Arizona State Eyes Enrollment Boost: 100 Million by 2030.’

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