By Valerie Vande Panne
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (Reuters) - The Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Wednesday unveiled a new program that will allow students for the first time to earn credit at the elite school for classes taken through its online MITx program.
The program will allow candidates to take a semester of courses at its master's degree program in supply chain management for free online and then have an opportunity to apply to its full program in supply chain management.
MIT and Harvard University were early participants in the edX learning initiative begun in 2011 that allows students to take free online classes, but officials at the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based universities long held that the program was not comparable to enrolling in the highly selective school.
More than 36 schools offer classes online through the edX program.
Students who complete the online work in the program, aimed at corporate executives who focus on global manufacturing and importing, and pass a comprehensive test will then be admitted into the program and be required to complete an additional semester of study on campus.
"The new combination of online courses and one residential semester will open the SCM program to many more learners," said Sanjay Sarma, the school's dean of digital learning.
The program typically admits about 40 students a year.
Online courses have been a fast-growing slice of the U.S. educational system over the past decade, with some 5.5 million college- or graduate-level students, or one in four, enrolled in online courses for at least a portion of their studies in 2013, according to the most recent data available from the National Center for Educational Statistics.
Arizona State University announced earlier this year it would offer its entire freshman year curriculum online.
(Editing by Scott Malone and Eric Walsh)