Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

College's $99 Online Courses Could Signal Shift in Cost Trend

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

College's $99 Online Courses Could Signal Shift in Cost Trend

Article excerpt

It's a bargain: $99 to earn three credits at a state university.

Thomas Edison State College announced Wednesday that it is partnering with an online provider to offer access to six free college courses that, for the cost of a $99 test, can each translate into credit toward an undergraduate degree.

The initiative is unique -- the college, based in Trenton, is the first in the state and one of the first in the nation to allow degree-seeking students to capitalize on the growth in so-called massive open online courses.

The move may also signal the beginning of a shift that could help to reverse a decade of hyper-inflation in college costs.

"Potentially, this could mean significant savings for students," said Devon Ritter, special project administrator at the Saylor Foundation, the non-profit group that developed the courses that Thomas Edison will offer. "We still need more institutional buy-in [from schools], but this is a start."

Online education has been around for more than a decade and has long held out the promise of providing broad access at low cost. But many schools have been slow to embrace it and, for the most part, students get no discount for online credits.

The explosive growth last year of massive open online courses -- many of which are taken by people who already have bachelor's degrees -- has spurred a debate in higher education as to how the model could be used by those seeking undergraduate degrees.

"It was really students starting the conversation of what can I get for these courses," said Cathy Sandeen, vice president for education attainment and innovation at the American Council on Education.

The council is in the midst of a yearlong study - funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation - of the courses and is reviewing those offered by two of the largest providers, Coursera and Udacity. The council has approved five of the courses for credit - students take a proctored exam at the end -- but it remains up to schools to decide whether to accept those credits. …

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