Coursera advertises that it lets you “take the world’s best courses, online, for free” on its website, but that free price tag doesn’t mean the company can’t be a big business one day.

Indeed, Coursera’s newly announced chief executive, Rick Levin, appears to have big ambitions.

“I think we can become financially viable certainly within [a] five-year framework,” Levin, formerly the president of Yale University, said in an interview the New York Times posted online today.

The sentiment might seem surprising for Coursera, which has gained a reputation of offering online education from top schools, free of charge, for millions around the globe.

Then again, Coursera’s investors certainly have big profits in mind; they infused the company with $63 million in Series B funding last year.

The company has been moving fast lately, announcing an iPad app and an Android app last month.

In the Times interview, Levin outlined the ways in which Coursera could bring in considerably more revenue.

Right now courses are free and we’re charging for certification. We think that as the idea of using Coursera courses for professional advancement grows, the numbers seeking certificates will grow. And the price we charge probably can grow, too. A move from $50 or $60 for Signature Track to $100 is certainly imaginable. At $100 a pop, if you had two or three, or five million people.

This shift won’t necessarily happen right away. Coursera’s backers are patient.

“I think the principal investors in Coursera understand that this is a long-term play,” he said.

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Coursera is an education company that partners with the top universities and organizations in the world to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free. Their technology enables their p... All Coursera news »

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Dr. Richard C. Levin, Ph.D. has been the President of Yale University since 1993. Dr. Levin serves as the President of The Yale Corporation. He served as the the President of Satmetrix Syste... All Rick Levin news »

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