Affordable Online Classes Lower College Costs

March 16, 2010

computer graduation capAn online company is offering college-credit courses for little more than $100 each.

Fox Chicago News reports that the Alexandria, Virginia-based company, called StraighterLine, does not offer full degrees, but it does offer core courses that are required for all freshmen, such as algebra, English composition and economics. Students pay a monthly fee of $99, plus $39 for each course they take, which they can work on at their own pace.

"It is cheaper to deliver online than it is face to face," explained Burck Smith, CEO of StraighterLine, who was quoted by Fox News. "The price point that we're offering is extremely affordable--lower than most community colleges, and we also price it as a subscription model."

Kevin Carey, policy director for the nonprofit think tank Education Sector, told Fox News that businesses such as StraighterLine could very well restructure higher education and bring down its costs. "People will be in the business of just offering a few classes," he noted. "They'll focus on what they're good at. And students will want to assemble degrees from a variety of different providers."

Daniel Levin, 27, of San Jose, is one example. He took English composition and economics through StraighterLine and is transferring them to Excelsior College. Levin told The Washington Post that he estimates being able to complete his degree for less than $20 per credit.

"I think most people don't realize that education is no longer a monopoly of larger schools that are going to cost a lot of money," he told the Post.

The Post notes that StraighterLine cannot earn accreditation, because it is not a school. Instead, it partners with several colleges that accept the company's courses for credit, which can then be transferred elsewhere. The courses are also approved by the American Council on Education.

"It's good for students, and these sorts of things do force traditional universities to rethink the things they do," noted Terry Hartle, senior vice president of ACE, who was quoted by the Post.

Smith told the Post that his success rate is better than 50 percent, but the company has served fewer than 1,000 students, probably because it has not focused on publicity. But that may change soon.

"When word gets out about its fee schedule," writes Daniel de Vise in his Washington Post blog, "will students flee the lecture halls?"

Compiled by Staff

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