Image via WikipediaI have been taking a closer look at Straighterline today. The Washington Monthly ran an article on the company called "College for $99 a Month." Their model is that students sign up to take classes for 99 dollars a month. The courses are accepted for credit at four colleges including Fort Hays State University. The courses are supported by a team of teachers, course ad visors, and 24/7 online tutoring. The courses use McGraw-Hill content (like many community colleges) and the courses are further vetted by the faculty and administrators of their partner colleges. The brilliant thing about this arrangement is that it allows students to take the courses at their own pace. One student discussed in the article was able to finish four classes in two months. For colleges with holes in the online schedule, it seems like a perfect fit. If you read the comments at the Washington Monthly you will see a lot of reasons not to do this - and they all basically center around the idea that either a) the purpose of the college is to provide jobs for teachers or b) a new model of education is wrong because education can only be defined by the old model. All of the reasons to not do this pale in comparison with the real issues facing students today.
According to a Michael Mandel in Sept. 12th's Business Week, since 2000, college costs are up by 23% since 2000 and pay for young college grads is down 11% over the same period. How can colleges and universities justify this? We have to come to grips with the fact that costs for the students are out of control - we need to look at alternative cost models like Straighterline; we need to adopt open source textbooks and technology. Straighterline is delivering the same outcomes and content at a significantly lower cost. In my experience, the same McGraw-Hill modules are being taught at many colleges with less interaction and support. Students should not be satisfied with courses with little interaction, little support, and where faculty do not provide timely feedback. What Straighterline can't do, and the colleges can, is adopt open education resources. Straighterline needs the quality assurance and expertise at McGraw-Hill. We should be taking the lead. We should be applying our expertise to free, open source texts and lowering costs for students.
I know that there are going to be a lot of people who are mistrustful or even upset at Straighterline's model. I like the fact that they will bring people to the table talking about things like cost, authentic assessment, and online course quality. It is long overdue.