The popularity of massive open online courses (MOOCs) is on the rise for students around the world. These classes are taught exclusively online and are often free of cost. They have very high enrollments – sometimes hundreds or thousands of students.
Many colleges and universities in the United States offer MOOCs as course options for enrolled students to earn course credit, but students studying in the United States on an F-1 or M-1 visa should be aware of the rules for counting online or distance education courses towards a full-course of study. The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), housed under U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), monitors schools and nonimmigrant students, as well as their dependents, for compliance with U.S. laws and regulations. The program has strict rules about online or distance courses that do not have a physical presence requirement.
Students studying on an F-1 visa at an academic institution may only count one distance education course (or three credit hours) toward a full course of study in each academic term if that course has no physical presence requirement. Students studying on an M-1 visa, or F-1 students enrolled in an English language program, cannot use online courses to fulfill their educational requirements. However, students who want to take a MOOC or other online class for their learning pleasure are free to do so.
"As long as nonimmigrant students comply with U.S. laws and regulations while studying in the states, we encourage them to seize every opportunity the U.S. higher education system has to offer," said Lou Farrell, SEVP director.
For international students considering U.S. higher education, the U.S. Department of State recently announced a new MOOC Camp initiative. Through the MOOC Camp initiative, staff at U.S. embassies and consulates, American Spaces and other partner institutions around the world, host facilitated discussions on entrepreneurship, English language and American studies, as well as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. As participants in these programs, international students are able to gain new knowledge and skills while learning about the U.S. higher education system.