Hallmarks of the Breakthrough Models, #3: Free Course Content

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Editor’s Note: This post is the third in a series from Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC). Each post highlights a distinguishing design characteristic of NGLC’s recently funded Breakthrough Postsecondary Models, as described in their profiles. This post originally appeared on the NGLC blog at http://nextgenlearning.org/blog

There are few goods or services in our culture today that we commit to before trying them out first. Watching a movie in a theater and eating a meal in a restaurant are two that do come to mind. But I can try on clothes in a dressing room at a department store. I can read an excerpt from a book online or in a bookstore. I can ride a bike in a bike shop. College, though, requires a substantial long-term commitment before learning ever begins. This includes a number of up-front costs: application fees and deposits, tuition, and textbooks to name a few. I might get the chance to sit in on a class session, meet an instructor, or get a virtual tour. But I need to invest a good amount of time and money before experiencing college for myself.

Two of the ten breakthrough postsecondary models recently funded by NGLC—New Charter University and the University of Washington—are challenging the common practice of pay first, learn later in higher education today. These models permit students to learn first and pay later, so that they can take the degree programs for a test-ride or try them on for size before making the commitment.

New Charter University is a for-profit four-year online institution partnering with Santa Rosa Junior College, a public two-year college in California. A primary goal of its degree program model is to increase affordability and access while personalizing high-quality outcomes-driven learning. The university’s courses and content are freely available online to any learner, whether or not they are enrolled. It’s possible for anyone to join as a community member and try a course before officially enrolling as a student. And current students have the ability to share what they are learning with people in their lives who can then help them as mentors or tutors. Tuition for this self-paced, mastery-based degree program is a monthly subscription of $199 including textbooks, a price the institution hopes that most learners can afford without taking on debt. More information about the university’s academic and financial degree program model is available in a two-page profile published by NGLC.

The University of Washington’s Online Undergraduate Degree Completion Program seeks to serve a different population than the flagship research institution’s predominantly full-time traditional-age students—working adults who are interested in or need an undergraduate degree in order to advance their careers. The new program will offer free versions of its courses as massive open online courses (MOOCs). The MOOC format will allow students to sample courses before enrolling in the degree program. The goal is to better serve students from this population by providing them with access to high-quality learning at no cost. The same courses will also be available for university credit. A cost is attached once a student decides to enroll for credit, but it is reduced. The paid credit-bearing courses will be instructor-led and have additional requirements for successful completion. In addition, advisors, coaches, and online support systems will be available to help students succeed. Read more about the University of Washington’s degree program model in its two-page profile