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A pilot program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology allows learners to earn a master’s degree by completing the first semester online and the second on the Cambridge campus, president L. Rafael Reif revealed Wednesday.

The new arrangement is initially limited to MIT’s one-year program in supply chain management, which is designed for midcareer professionals.

Reif said the rising cost of higher education plus the capabilities of Internet learning motivated the school to try the idea. He trumpeted it as a way to increase access to a skill set — overseeing the process of distributing goods to places where they are needed, whether in a factory or a grocery store — that companies say is in short supply worldwide. “The most important thing is to democratize access to MIT,” Reif said.

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A key feature of the new program will be an “inverted” admissions process. Students who do well in the online courses will be invited to apply for the full master’s program.

“After the second or third course, we will know who the stars are,” said Yossi Sheffi, a professor and director of the MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics who is helping roll out the program.

In addition to the degree program, MIT said it will grant a new “MicroMaster’s” credential for completing the online semester and passing the exam.

MIT is the latest, and most elite, college to introduce this type of program. Arizona State University has a program that allows incoming freshman to take all of their courses online and pay only if they pass.

The pilot program builds upon MIT’s efforts to increase its online learning programs. The college in 2011 launched MITx, a portfolio of free courses available online. Reif said MIT does not believe in offering degrees that are earned entirely online.

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The first semester of courses will remain free for anyone who does not want an official certificate. The cost of the full-year master’s program for students who start online will be slightly cheaper than spending both semesters on campus.

Each of the five online classes that make up the first semester costs $150, and the proctored exam will cost between $400 and $800, professors said. The second semester will cost at least half the price of the yearlong program, or about $33,000, MIT officials said.


Laura Krantz can be reached at laura.krantz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @laurakrantz.