A consortium of leading U.S. universities says it is moving forward with an innovative for-credit online education program. Dubbed Semester Online, the program will offer undergraduate students the opportunity to take rigorous online courses for credit from member universities of the consortium, Northwestern University reported Thursday. In addition to Northwestern, the consortium includes Brandeis University, Duke University, Emory University, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Notre Dame, University of Rochester, Vanderbilt University, Wake Forest University and Washington University in St. Louis. The program, which will begin accepting applications in early 2013 for a fall semester, will be delivered through a virtual classroom environment and interactive platform. \"The challenge has been developing a web-based program that mirrors the richness and robustness of the in-classroom experience and applies credit toward earning a degree,\" Ed Macias, executive vice chancellor for academic affairs of Washington University in St. Louis, said. Courses will feature primarily the same faculty and curricula as their brick-and-mortar counterparts, while additional courses designed for the online format will be introduced in the future, the consortium said. \"Students from all over the country, or even from abroad, will be able to attend these online classes in real time -- classes of about 15 to 20 students taught by professors at some of the nation\'s leading universities,\" Daniel Linzer, Northwestern University provost, said.