An Alternative (Online) Path to 'Free' College

September 19, 2018
 

A range of alternative providers have in recent years sought to significantly lower the price of college-level course work by offering affordable online courses that will be accepted for credit by colleges. Think StraighterLine, which puts forth a low-priced, all-you-can-learn model, or University of the People, which charges only an end-of-course fee of $100. More recently, Saylor Academy and Modern States Education Alliance have developed arrangements that allow students to earn academic credits for free online courses they've taken from the organizations.

A new provider is looking to jump on the "free college" bandwagon aimed at making higher education more affordable, particularly for adults. Onlinedegree.com, which began operation this summer, offers free courses built on open educational resources and a customized, open-source learning management system. The only charge to students: a $9 per test fee for proctoring.

Today, Colorado State University Global Campus announced that it will accept as many as 44 credits -- roughly a third of what's needed for a bachelor's degree -- from students who take free courses through the portal. Karen Ferguson, provost and vice president of strategic development at CSU Global, said the company's courses had been put through the paces of the university's faculty-led external credit-review process, and the approved ones were "deemed to be aligned" with the university's own. (Those courses and others from onlinedegree.com also have approval from the National College Credit Recommendation Service.)

Grant Aldrich, founder of onlinedegree.com, said CSU Global joins a small group of other colleges (including Ashworth University, Excelsior College and Southern New Hampshire University) that have agreed to accept academic credits earned through the site. He said the courses would remain "100 percent free to students forever" thanks to a mix of advertising on the site's promotional pages (not on its course pages), the money it has raised from angel and other investors, and, eventually, services it plans to provide to institutions.

Roughly 1,000 students are studying on the platform now, a number Aldrich expects to grow to as many as a million.

"We want to create a new platform," he said, "to help bridge people back to higher education."

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