The University System of Maryland is set to roll out its first class from a new partnership with an educational nonprofit — and it will be free, online and available to anyone.

The 12-campus USM in July signed an agreement with edX, an organization started by Harvard and MIT in 2012 that offers free online classes to anyone in the world, said Johannes Heinlein, edX's vice president of strategic partnerships. EdX works with more than 100 institutions and reaches nearly 9 million learners, Heinlein said.

University of Maryland University College invested $2 million in the partnership.

Maryland is the second state university system to partner with edX, the first being the University of Texas System. The first class will be a global health course co-taught by UMUC and University of Maryland, Baltimore faculty.

"We are committed to utilizing academic innovation as a way to maintain quality and decrease costs," USM Chancellor Robert Caret said in a statement. "This partnership is a big step in that direction."

Marie Cini, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs of UMUC, said this is the online college's first involvement with massive open online courses, or MOOCs, even though the college has been in online education since the 1990s.

"However, we watched carefully what was going on in the MOOC world and have really admired what edX is doing," Cini said.

UMUC hopes to eventually focus its edX offerings on the school's specialties, such as cybersecurity, Cini said.

While UMUC and UMB have already jumped into edX, the University of Maryland, College Park already has a relationship with a competing company, Coursera.

This university is the only school in the USM to have a pre-existing relationship to offer MOOCs through Coursera, a for-profit MOOC provider, said Ben Bederson, associate provost of learning initiatives and executive director of the Teaching and Learning Transformation Center.

"EdX is essentially another vendor that competes with Coursera," he said. "As the system develops that sort of relationship, we will look into that as an additional possible provider of MOOCs."

Bederson said this university has had "tremendous success" with Coursera, offering more than 20 courses. The main attraction to MOOCs is to build a school's reputation, Bederson said.

"This is great outreach to people around the world that want to learn stuff that we know about, and then they see UMD in a good light," he said.

EdX is selective about who it partners with and chose Maryland because of their aligned vision, said Heinlein.

Heinlein emphasized the potential for collaboration ­— which has already been realized in this first class with UMUC and UMB working together — as a unique feature of edX classes.

"It sends a really powerful signal to other partners to work collaboratively and together as faculty to bring content across the world," Heinlein said. "We are really excited about it, and the content that is being developed is free to anyone in the world."

Heinlein said edX will provide the flexibility, training and resources for each USM school to use it how they see fit. He pointed to MIT as the furthest advanced with edX, where 83 percent of undergraduates use edX technology in some way and many classes utilize online lectures to allow for more in-class discussion time.

But that future will be left up to each individual school, he said.

"What is much more important is the commitment from the institution," Heinlein said. "The agreement allows as many courses as the institution would like to create. It is up to the institution."

The UMB-UMUC global health course will focus on lessons learned from Ebola and begins Sept. 20, open to anyone for free. Hundreds have already signed up for it, Cini said.

MJ Bishop, director of the USM's Kirwan Center for Academic Innovation, will oversee the partnership and plans to establish an advisory board this fall that will establish long-term goals.

"Because of the global reach, MOOCs can really raise awareness of an institution," Bishop said. "Providing these kinds of opportunities are important to build the knowledge of the world."

CLARIFICATION: A previous headline for this story read "University of Maryland-Baltimore and UMUC students can soon take online courses for free." The course that is available right now is not only open to UMB and UMUC students but also to anyone who wishes to take it.