College Courses for $99/month?
A company called straighterline offers a $99/month subscription to its services: online college courses with no time constraints on course completion. The company allows you to participate in courses at your leisure, with the ability to finish them as fast as you can take them – one student completed four courses in two months (effectively, for $200, compared to anywhere from $2000 to $10000 over one or two semesters at a brick-and-mortar institution). Each student is assigned an adviser with a Ph.D. accessible via e-mail, and credits can be transferred to one of four partner colleges.
According to Inside Higher Ed, there were five partner colleges, at least as of March. I wonder what happened to the fifth. Currently, this is the list:
- Charter Oak State College, a 4-year public small liberal arts college (SLAC) in Connecticut focused on distance learning
- Fort Hays State University, a mid-sized public university in Kansas
- Lake City Community College, a public community/professional college in Florida
- Potomac College, a for-profit college in the Washington DC metro area
Of that list, as you might guess, the biggest problems have occurred at Fort Hays State. Fort Hays is in most regards a typical public university. As such, its students have a stronger opinion about the kind of cachet their degree will bring them:
“In the short term, this may save FHSU a small amount of money (although this is debatable). In the long term, this could increase the cost of a degree for current students, lower the quality of education and academic standards at FHSU, lead to unemployment for many passionate educators, and eventually cheapen the value of a degree from FHSU for both current and future alumni,” says the Facebook group created by students that has set off the discussion.
Perhaps the most interesting aspects of the debate (at least from the perspective of training research in I/O psychology) are the assumptions about the lower quality of online education, despite recent evidence from the Department of Education (as well as my own dissertation) that it is at least comparable and sometimes preferable terms of effectiveness. Consider this statement by a Fort Hays student:
If Straighter Line fails too many students or make courses too challenging, they run the risk of losing support from the schools that use their service. How do they maintain academic honesty in an entirely virtual class? How do they anticipate the needs of a wide variety of students if their courses are pre-designed and generic? Can anyone actually tell me (with a straight face) that virtual general education classes offer the same quality as face-to-face instruction from passionate educators on the FHSU campus? Why bother being a liberal arts institution if we are going to devalue general education courses?
Many of these concerns mirror those of trainers considering migration to online courses (usually because it’s easier and perceived as less expensive), which is why my interest is piqued.
For more of the debate, check out these articles and discussions:
- Washington Monthly: College for $99 a month
- Inside Higher Ed: Revolt Against Outsourced Courses
- Slashdot: All-You-Can-Eat-College for $99-a-month
- Kairosnews: The Perfect Storm Facing Higher Education
- Alex Reid: a straighterline to higher education hell
- Tony’s Brain: Straighterline Revisited
- SL-written press releases and promotional blog entires
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