Initiative hopes to make freshman year free for everyone

An alternative education provider has entered the market as Freshman Year for Free and will be offering tuition-free courses to help more students earn college credit before they arrive on campus, writes Goldie Blumenstyk for the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Modern States, a nonprofit, unveiled Freshman Year for Free in early August. The online courses will be in over 40 subject areas and will be taught by faculty from major universities, Blumenstyk reports. And while Modern States will not grant credit to students themselves, the courses will serve as an alternative approach to learning the material on Advanced Placement (AP) and College Level Examination Programs (CLEP) exams administered by the College Board, she writes.

In fact, Modern States will cover exam fees for the first 10,000 students who enroll, reports Blumenstyk.

The founders, Steven Klinsky and David Vise, are hoping that students will consider their courses over others that can be very expensive, writes Blumenstyk. Klinsky is the chief financier of Modern States and is serving as its chief executive, she writes. His background is in private equity—his investment firm held a stake in Strayer Education, a for-profit institution.

Given how much of an indicator CLEP and AP exams can be in terms of predicting students' success in college, some are in favor of a free venture that would improve outcomes, writes Blumenstyk. For example, community college students who pass at least one CLEP exam are 17% more likely to complete an associate degree, according to Angela Boatman, an assistant professor of public policy and higher education at Vanderbilt University. For students at four-year institutions the increase is 2.6%.

According to Vise, a few high school teachers are also using the courses to supplement their AP curricula.

However, both Klinsky and Vise concede that Freshman Year for Free's model may not be best for students who will be the first in their families to attend college or who come from low-income environments, writes Blumenstyk. That is because research shows these students often need additional mentoring, advising, and other support services in order to succeed in college work, Klinsky and Vice explain. This kind of support is not currently offered through Freshman Year for Free (Blumenstyk, Chronicle of Higher Education, 8/9). 

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