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Federally Developed and Administered Home Study College Courses for Credit at $10 per Credit Hour  

 

Originally written in 2006.

College tuition costs have escalated to the point that a college education is beyond the means of most people. We need an inexpensive means for students to learn college course material and document that learning in course credits for university degrees.

The majority of courses at the undergraduate level are the same in all universities.  Many courses have been the same for half a century or more.  Calculus, physics, and mechanics courses were the same for me at Purdue in the 1960s as they were for my children at Ohio State in the 1990s, and they are now.    While the effectiveness of instructors has varied greatly, very good text books have stood the test of time.  Those books define the courses and are still there to teach new students.

We should create a national program to allow students to receive credit for courses by home study and passing locally proctored tests. The standards for credits received through this program must be high.  If the program is properly administered, these credits will be better regarded than credits from many colleges where the standards are uncertain.  This program could be established on a state or regional (multi-state) basis.

State universities should be required to accept these credits. Private universities would follow in recognizing these credits due to the competitive environment and recognition of the standards maintained.

Program courses may be supported by downloaded text books, recorded lectures, online blogs, FAQ lists, worked sample problems, interactive software, etc.  Private enterprise or voluntary organizations may offer supplemental learning materials, tutoring or organized classroom support.  For example, Khan Academy, the free learning environment, could and likely would develop videos to support the courses. 

 After a short period of initial program development, the cost of the program should be borne by the fees charged to the students. The course development costs would be minimal (a few cents) when spread over the large student group. Test development would be a little more (a dollar or two per student). Where multiple choice tests are appropriate, tests would be optical scan machine graded at minimal cost. A larger cost would be incurred for tests which must be hand graded.  Test proctoring might cost several dollars per test.  The target total cost should be about $10 per credit hour.

Every course won’t work for every student.  In a given course, some students may thrive in a home study environment while others may need the traditional classroom setting.  Some courses may require a student/instructor interaction or a lab environment and not be amenable to this program.  The idea is for the student to use the home study approach where it works for him or her and thereby cut the cost of his education.

This program may allow a typical student to avoid the high tuition for one third to one half of a college degree.  It will increase the demand for the traditional university courses because more students will pursue degrees.  Most importantly, it will help students achieve and will help us meet the national need for a more educated workforce. 

Associate level degrees may have a higher percentage of courses which can be satisfied by this program.

Certification programs meeting more specific workforce needs can be developed by private organizations.  Those programs can prescribe these affordable courses as part of their curriculum. 


More detailed thoughts:

1. A very detailed synopsis would be developed for each course. It would include a list of recommended textbooks which cover all of the course material.

2. Sample problems with solutions (like Schaum's Outline) would be provided for technical courses.  Organizations like Khan's Academy would be encouraged to supplement the learning environment.  Qualified volunteer and paid tutors would be sought.

3. As with a typical university course, there would be two or three interim tests and a comprehensive final.

4. A course grade would be assigned (A, A-, B+, ...)

5. Certified proctors would be used to administer the tests in local high schools, community colleges, civic centers, etc.  With integrity of the utmost importance, licensed high school teachers would be good candidates for these paid positions.  Hard copy tests would be mailed to the proctors. 

6. Target cost would be $10 per credit hour. 

7. Tests would not be released to the student to preclude the building of test files.