College must become more accessible and affordable–so here’s a start

Thinking ahead.
Thinking ahead.
Image: AP Photo/Butch Dill
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It might be difficult to believe that by 2020, the U.S. alone will be three million college graduates short of what projections say the economy will need. By 2025, that number could skyrocket to 16 million. Making college exclusive and expensive is not the answer the global economy needs, but that’s the trend in current budget climates. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Some schools, prestigious universities included, have been making strides in quality online education. This commitment to more inclusion and access should be applauded.

But those programs have their limitations. Program costs are usually about the same as their on-campus counterparts. That’s a lot of money; the average cost of a bachelor’s degree is over $9,000 in-state per year. Students may also struggle with full-time work and traditional class requirements, putting up a barrier between them and the college career and degree they would like to earn.

Students also still need to apply and be accepted—if students had a less-than-stellar high school track record, getting in to a respected university could be impossible, even if they are capable of the work. Other students—students around the world—may not have the access to a university in their own country, or the time difference precludes interaction with teachers or other students in some programs.

Massive open online courses, on the other hand, can provide quality courses, often for free, to anyone with an internet connection. However, these generally appeal to students who already have degrees and free time rather than students who need a path into college, and they don’t provide official college credit, which students need to progress toward a degree that they can ultimately show to an employer.

It shouldn’t matter where you live or where you fall on the socioeconomic ladder. What matters is if a student wants to open his or her mind, learn from a respected research university, and show the world they can succeed academically, they ought to have an inclusive program to jumpstart their college career.

So we decided to give people a chance.

ASU has partnered with edX to create the Global Freshman Academy. By becoming a charter member of edX, the nonprofit, online education enterprise founded by Harvard and MIT, ASU joins such universities as Caltech, Berkeley and Georgetown in a shared commitment to excellence in teaching and learning. ASU brings a whole new dimension to the edX mission.

The Global Freshman Academy gives people the opportunity to take an entire freshman year’s worth of open online courses for credit. No applications, no SATs, no letters of recommendation. Just university-quality courses created by ASU’s leading scholars offered online, open to anyone, anywhere, at any time.

The Global Freshman Academy is not just a piecemeal assortment of courses, it’s a new path to a degree. Inclusion and access meet affordability and quality. This offering of credit at a global scale is what the online learning community has been missing.

We want to see students succeed. We believe that education throws open the doors of opportunity and uncovers paths to success, but that students are ultimately responsible for their own futures. The Global Freshman Academy empowers them to take charge of their education and achievement.

The Global Freshman Academy lets them start on that journey at their pace, on their own time. Without the pressures of deadlines, group projects or scheduling work around class, students can become accustomed to university-level coursework. For students who don’t know if college is right for them, this will allow them to explore with without stressing over applications and costs. For high school students, they can take courses concurrently with their high school classes to get ahead on their college education.

Success for ASU and edX in this space doesn’t mean just signing up a lot of students. It means engaging students globally from every society and every socioeconomic group and providing them with a quality education, faculty support and an interactive, group involvement by which to have a complete learning experience.

If you want to take these courses and learn without earning credit, you can do so at no cost. If you want to earn credit, which will include various examinations and assessments to ensure you understand the material, they’ll run no more than $200 per credit hour. If you take eight courses—the number required for ASU freshman year—that’s less than half the cost of on-campus freshman tuition and fees at ASU.

Whether the student takes one class or 12, these are not pass or fail courses; students who take the courses for credit will receive actual grades and a transcript from ASU that they use them to apply for a degree program at any university.

Why freshman year? Freshman year can make or break a student’s career. Only about half of college students complete their programs of study, and a stumble in freshman year can spell disaster for obtaining a degree. We want college not only to be accessible, but approachable and empowering.

This program helps students prove they are capable of college-level work to universities, employers, and most importantly, themselves. It’s designed so that students can trigger and master their learning capabilities and prepare for success in any university program.

The first three courses will be available in the fall, but you can register through the edX website now. Over the next two years, at least 12 courses will be available.

ASU and edX operate on the simple but profound idea that education should be inclusive of and accessible to people around the world, and should be of the right quality and caliber to give students the tools they need to succeed.

This is a plan based on values, not profits. We want to be a model, and hope that other universities and tech organizations can see that this, and programs like it, will be an essential part of the future of education.

Higher education shouldn’t be an exclusive club. Should we be judged on how few people we accept, or whether or not we are making an impact? Should we be judged on the GPAs of incoming students, or on the relative difference we make in their lives? With the Global Freshman Academy, we’re breaking down those barriers to build up students—and changing the landscape of education for good.

We’re open for education.