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Data Science Specialization Makes Coursera Millions in Revenue

Since April 2014, 1.76 million enrollments in Johns Hokins Data Science courses.

Data science is a hot field right now, with Harvard Business Review calling it the “sexiest job of the 21st Century”. It is also a hot Specialization for Coursera. Offered by Johns Hopkins University, Coursera’s Data Science Specialization consists of 9 courses, followed by a capstone project.

Ira Gooding who is Open Educational Resource Coordinator at Johns Hopkins gave some stats regarding this Specialization in this blog post. Namely:

• 1.76 million course sign-ups
• 71,589 Signature Track verified certificates were awarded
• 917 students completed all 9 courses and signed up for the first capstone course
• 478 students successfully completed the first capstone course

At $49 per Signature Track certificate, the 71K figure results in ~$3.5M (though a little less, because the first course is $29 and there may have been scholarships). But remember, students pay at the outset of the course, and not all of them meet the requirements to get the certificate, thus the revenue might be even higher

However, whatever the exact revenue that Coursera took in, some things are clear. First, we see the large public interest in learning about data science, with the 1.76 sign-ups. Second, we know that a major educational effort was conducted, with at least 71K validated course completions–without even counting the learning of those who didn’t complete their courses or didn’t sign-up for the certificates. Third, we see that this has resulted in a high-leverage revenue stream for Coursera.

Even though data science is one of the hotter fields, this model is being replicated in many different areas, and it is very promising for establishing a sustainable business model for Coursera. And because of the scale offered by the MOOC platform, the individual costs are very affordable compared to other ways to comprehensively learn this subject area.

Comments 12

  1. ilyakipnis

    Here’s the question from the other end of the spectrum:

    What value do these certifications deliver for those who pay for them? The data science specialization is fairly basic material. What are the job statistics of those who receive them? Or does Coursera not even care about that so long as it gets its cash?

    • Dobies

      I doubt Coursera cares about it. I too question the value of a purely “Data Science” class. Coursera for me always seemed like a way to fulfill curiosities, not to get a career out of the education. To do so, would imply taking not just one, but more specializations and managing to frame them as some complete package that would be useful in a professional manner

    • Charlie Chung

      Hi, I think you are asking an important question.

      The thing to keep in mind is that credentials will always start out as a chicken-and-egg problem: if they are not valued by others, why would someone pursue them? And why would others value them if they are not ‘proven’ by a large enough sample?

      Thus, the cycle has to start somewhere. But your point is well-taken, people should have realistic expectations about what the credential will mean for them in the short-term, and what it may or may not mean to others in the longer term.

      • ilyakipnis

        See, I don’t think it is a chicken and egg problem. Why? Because I think that if the credentials are worth it, then MOOC organizations would be able to monetize them through playing the role of a recruiter. EG: http://www.cybercoders.com/jobs/data-scientist-jobs/ . Companies like cybercoders, Selby Jennings, Haggan Ricci, and god knows what other recruiting firms offer *zero* credentials, and make their revenue by placing candidates with job skills into high paying jobs and collecting a fee from the employer for finding a talented candidate.

        If MOOCs were able to not only find but PRODUCE such candidates, wouldn’t it stand to say that they’d be able to make money hand over fist? And it isn’t like these companies don’t have the relationships. Coursera was founded by two Silicon Valley legends (Koller/Ng). Udacity by a third (Thrun). EdX by MIT/Harvard individuals. They could have marketed themselves not to would-be students, but to *employers* with the business model of “let us find–no–*produce*–your ideal candidate.”

        Why haven’t they?

  2. Cedric Wang

    Thank you for sharing these figures~

    • Charlie Chung

      Thanks Cedric! Let us know if there’s anything else you’d like to know that we can try to find out…!

  3. Ryan Bowen

    As someone who took some of the courses in the Data Science track, I can say that the value of the courses for the learner is very minimal. Essentially the learner has to end up teaching themselves as the courses are largely incoherent, disconnected, information dumps which are little use for the assignments that the learner is expected to complete. While Coursera may be making a ton of money off of this ‘hot’ topic, they are doing so by offering courses that are very poorly crafted (just look at the reviews for any of these courses) and charging learners for information that learners themselves are essentially teaching themselves. I think it reflects pretty poorly on Coursera, Johns Hopkins University, as well as the professors who are offering the course.

    • Argyn Kuketayev

      JHU’s Data Science track is not representative of Coursera’s quality of offering. I agree with your characterization of this particular track, but there are excellent courses over there too. For instance, Economics of Money and Banking by Prof Mehrling, or Vazirani’s Quantum Computing are quite amazing. If JHU’s course was the only one you took, then surely your opinion of Coursera will not be favorable

  4. Greg Gay

    A word of caution for those looking at getting into the JHU Data Science signature track. The price mentioned here per course is $49. That was true up until a few days ago when Coursera nearly doubled the price to $96 per course without any warning. At least that is the case for those taking the course from most parts of the world. I hear those joining from Japan are still paying the old price.

    There is a lot of heated discussion going on in the forums currently for the courses in this specialization about the ethics of Coursera changing the prices midstream for those who are already enrolled in the program. While I can understand the program has value, and realize demand often dictates price, the practice of enticing students to invest time in completing the courses (and they can be challenging), then hiking the price by 100% midstream through a program, is a rather nasty business practice that has left a bad taste in the mouths of many.

    Given the revenues (or is it profits) that Coursera is already making on this specialization (3.5M in a year), this all sounds like greed. Given the number of people now spreading the word, I would not be surprised if this backfires on Coursera.

    If they must, raise the price for new students entering the program. They know ahead of time what they’ll be paying. Raising the price on those already in the program, and expecting to pay a certain price advertised when they joined, this is misleading advertising by all accounts. Aren’t there laws in the U.S. to protect consumers from such unethical practices?

    • canwaf

      I have been burned by this cost increase. I am quite incensed that they would do this mid stream. I decided to take a break when the ‘Getting and Cleaning Data” course pulled the “draw a horse with an oval, four legs, and all the rest of the horse” so typical of poor remote learning.

      I think I’ll just do the classes free. It’s no longer a “nice to have” certificate the cost of a nice night out and now an “investment” completely changing my price sensitivity.

      Shame on Cousera.

    • Elizabeth Black

      I don’t know if this was temporary or what, but all classes are currently $49.

  5. Argyn Kuketayev

    The completion rate of verified certificates is 67% according to one of the authors of the specialization: http://simplystatistics.org/2015/07/03/the-massive-future-of-statistics-education/. So, the revenue estimate must be upped by 50%, i.e. it’s about $5.3M. Not bad


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