How to ‘democratize education’: Stanford’s free online course gains 30,000 students in 3 years

“If universities are serious about a mission to democratize education, this course is one terrific way to accomplish it," said Vice Provost Matthew Rascoff.

When it comes to high earning potential, degrees in data and computer science are among the hottest assets a bachelor’s student can earn. Specifically, a computer science degree from Stanford is the tenth-best for high pay, according to the HEA Group and College Scorecard.

As prestigious—and exclusive—a degree from Stanford may be, that hasn’t stopped two professors from creating Code in Place, an online program free of charge and open to the public to learn the basics of programming. While the program doesn’t offer teachers any financial incentives or learners any college credit, the rewards both groups have reaped are immeasurable.

“Coming together as a community of educators to help spread the joy of programming to thousands is both humbling and uplifting,” said Mehran Sahami, chair of the Department of Computer Science, according to Stanford Engineering. “It’s honestly been one of the greatest experiences I’ve had as a teacher.”

As its third program concludes on June 10, the program will have enrolled about 30,000 students and another 3,000 instructors.

Stanford Vice Provost for Digital Education Matthew Rascoff has recognized the intangible values of this program, such as its ability to open a programming education to students regardless of their background. “If universities are serious about a mission to democratize education, this course is one terrific way to accomplish it,” Rascoff said, according to Forbes.

Aside from contributing to higher education’s mission to break down barriers to quality learning, Code in Place has also had some direct benefits to its own student body.

More from UB: Good news! Current students believe their degree is worth the cost

Fostering community

Instructors for Code in Place are primarily made up of retired teachers, college students studying computer science, and former Code in Place students. One Stanford student joined as an instructor during the height of the pandemic, and his ability to engage with others and teach about programming ended up helping him through it. “Code in Place helped me personally get through that rough period by helping others,” said Cameron Mohne. “The people you work with and the fundamental knowledge you get is incredible. Code in Place lets you gauge your interest in a powerful concept that can change your life.”

Improving student outcomes

Another student, Katherine Michel, believes Code in Place helped her escape a pandemic-based rut. After discovering the free program through a Tweet, she claims she gained the fundamental skills and knowledge to revitalize her career and confidence. She is now with JPMorgan Chase & Co. and currently serves as a section leader in Code in Place.

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and Florida Gator alumnus. A graduate in journalism and communications, his beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene, and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador, and Brazil.

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