Bringing Value and Transparency to Higher Ed

We’ve written a lot about the staggering cost of college and the important role technology will play in lowering that cost. Specifically, we’ve mentioned the innovative work of a for-profit firm called StraighterLine. StraighterLine delivers self-paced, online college courses at a very low price, as low as $99/month.  Students can take these courses and transfer the credits to an accredited institution in pursuit of a degree.

StraigherLine has gotten a lot of positive publicity, and rightfully so. Like any newbie getting a lot of attention, however, it’s raised the eyebrows of the establishment. Recently, Inside Higher Ed, a publication of record for post-secondary education, did an in-depth, three-part analysis of a StraighterLine course.

The article found fault with several aspects of the course; it said the content of the course was outdated, and the availability of the personalized tutoring was lacking, among other issues. In response, Burck Smith, CEO of StraighterLine, admitted the course could use some improvement, and he listed off ways it has already been improved since the author enrolled in the course.

To be viable StraighterLine must drive strong learning outcomes for students. Indeed, learning outcomes are an essential part of the conversation but they should not be the only part of it. Inside Higher Ed spent three articles analyzing the quality of the course, but didn’t talk about two other important metrics: value and transparency.

When it comes to offering value and transparency, StraighterLine sets a good example for traditional colleges to follow. StraighterLine courses will not be confused with those offered at Harvard, but they’re sufficient, improving, and they allow students to take introductory college courses on the cheap. Via StraighterLine, it’s possible for a student to complete their freshman year for less than $1,000.  If students truly want to learn via StraighterLine, they have every opportunity to do so (e.g. StraighterLine uses the same McGraw Hill content used in thousands of traditional college courses). Students know exactly how many credits they’re going to get, the knowledge they’re going to learn, and where those credits can be transferred.

With the cost of college so astronomically high, alternatives like StraighterLine are essential to ensuring all students – of all economic backgrounds – have access to college. While StraighterLine is no-frills, students know it’s no-frills. Instead of solely nitpicking at the faults of an individual Straighterline course, the conversation should also include ways all colleges can use online delivery methods, improved assessments, and enhanced reporting to all stakeholders to lower costs for students while ensuring a quality educational experience.

Do you think StraighterLine is truly a model for value and transparency? What aspects of StraighterLine should traditional colleges learn from?

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