How to provide 'freshman year for free'

One donor funds MOOC program to expand AP credit access

A New York philanthropist wants to make freshman year of college free for all students by enabling them to earn basic, required credits through MOOC providers, the Washington Post reports.

Steven Klinsky announced on Wednesday a $1 million donation to Massachusetts Institute of Technology's and Harvard University's edX to develop 20 courses that prepare students for College Board Advanced Placement (AP) or College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests.

Klinsky's plan is to help students earn college credit before attending, so they would essentially begin their higher education careers as sophomores—cutting their total college cost by a fourth.

How to count AP credits? Policies vary even within the same college

"No one should be shut out of education after high school because of tuition cost or lack of access," says Klinsky, adding that he wants "to create at least one universally available and tuition-free path toward high quality education for anyone who seeks it."  

EdX already offers courses aimed at high school students, such as AP biology and AP physics. "The enrollment has been phenomenal," says Nancy Moss, an edX spokesperson, adding that some high school courses have had approximately 10,000 students in them.

A new type of MOOC for a new type of disruption

Klinsky's donation and plan, enacted through his not-for-profit Modern States Education Alliance (Modern States), would bring edX's total number of introductory courses to 30 within a year and a half.  The classes would be made up of online discussion groups, free online materials and texts, quizzes, and tests. Klinsky says he also wants to use Modern States to connect students with mentors, counselors, and tutors.

He himself took AP tests as a high schooler and says he sees MOOCs as a way to expand that path for others. "I'm just trying to make the revolution that's already going on more accessible to more people," he says.

The "freshman year for free" idea follows President Barack Obama's proposal to make community college tuition free for students making academic progress at institutions that award credits which can be applied to a four-year degree or credentials that lead to work in high-demand fields (Anderson, Washington Post, 1/14).


  • Manage Your Events
  • Saved webpages and searches
  • Manage your subscriptions
  • Update personal information
  • Invite a colleague