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Credit: Luke Chen

Taking Wharton classes online may not earn Coursera students a degree, but it may draw them to Huntsman Hall.

Wharton has recently expanded its offerings of Massive Open Online Courses on Coursera with the introduction of the Business Foundations Specialization. The program combines the introductory business classes that were released in 2013 with a new Capstone Project that users complete after successfully finishing the Foundations classes.

The top 50 students will have their application fees to the Wharton MBA program waived and, if accepted into Wharton, the top five students will be granted a $20,000 scholarship.

“We are hoping someday we can have sponsors to increase the size of the grant,” said Managing Director of the Innovation Group Don Huesman.

The Foundations Series incorporates part of the basic MBA curriculum, including four introductory courses in Financial Accounting, Operations Management, Marketing and Corporate Finance. The Capstone Project was designed in collaboration with the faculty who teach the existing Business Foundations classes on Coursera. It provides an opportunity for students to apply the skills learned in the classes to solve a real-world businesses problem.

Students may choose to complete the Capstone Project for music identification service Shazam or e-commerce site SnapDeal India, both of which are either operated or owned by Wharton graduates. Alternatively, they may work on a problem they faced in their own companies or a generic case.

Leading the production and release of the Business Foundations Specialization is Director of Wharton Online Learning Initiatives Anne Trumbore.

Trumbore said that the decision to release the Specialization follows the success Wharton has had on Coursera since it first brought its classes online in 2012.

“Wharton has been very successful with its courses on Coursera,” she said. “We have over 1 million learners. Over 50,000 have completed courses just in the fundamentals, so that was a very successful experiment.”

By creating the Specialization and offering the Capstone Project, Wharton is “breaking new ground,” as a similar project has not been available in an online setting before, Trumbore added.

“It is not perhaps a big deal for you to go to class and have a final project, but for 50,000 people to attempt a final project, that’s a whole different animal,” she said.

Trumbore said that Wharton decided to offer the Specialization option to “identify and attract some of the best students globally” and to “expand our efforts to bring Wharton knowledge to the world.”

Wharton marketing professor Peter Fader, who teaches the Introduction to Marketing class on Coursera, said he has been pleasantly surprised by his experiences teaching an online class.

“I thought it would be just a lot of people with a lot of time on their hands — students, retirees, people in jail — but I am continually shocked by the quality of the people taking [the class],” he said.

Fader’s marketing classes are now even being streamed on JetBlue and Virgin America flights in response to customer demand.

“The more the merrier,” Fader said.

Fader also added that he believes the creation of the Specialization program “makes a lot of sense” and that “it’s nice to guide the Coursera audience, instead of letting them pick from an overwhelming selection.”

However, Fader did express some misgivings with respect to the new online course options.

“There are all kinds of questions. What about the price point? Free, then $50 certifications, now higher,” he said.

Wharton Coursera courses may still be taken for free, but those wishing to receive verified certification for a Foundation course must now pay $95, and the Capstone Project costs $215 to complete. With a Coursera-verified certificate, the complete series costs $595.

However, despite the increased price point, Huesman said that registration for the Specialization has followed expectations, with between 50 to 100 thousand students already registered.

Huesman added that in the near future, Wharton will expand the Capstone Project options to around six new partners.

Although Huesman had originally expected that garnering partnerships would be a “challenge for the staff,” he cited “growing interest” from the companies.

The first class in the series, Introduction to Marketing, will begin on April 6.

This article was edited to clarify that Wharton Coursera courses may still be taken for free.

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