Thanks to a proliferation of free online college courses and exams that are accepted for credit by universities worldwide, more students are realizing their education dreams.
The rapid rise of online college curriculum has prompted some intense competition among the various schools and other organizations that have been vying for the dollars of the potential student body over the last five years. However, at the same time there has been a quieter revolution in the area of free online courses in many areas to the point that today, there are many new totally free college courses becoming available online. The category of Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) has been with us for a few years, but recent contributions to free learning opportunities have resulted in an explosion of the number and variety of courses available, and the enrollment in these types of courses has been blossoming too.
The Coursera group is a social entrepreneurship company that partners with top universities in the world to offer free courses, and has recently become a big player in the field. Coursera says its technology enables the best professors to teach thousands of students online at the same time and the group’s mission is to give everyone access to a world-class education that will improve their lives, the lives of their families, and the communities they live in. Partnering with Coursera, the American Council on Education (ACE) announced that it will begin evaluating Coursera courses and maintain a transcript registry for students in courses that might receive ACE credit recommendations, however Coursera will still administer the individual exams, a big part of the process of accrediting free college courses.
Competency-based credits are beginning to become more accepted at the same time, as Western Governor’s University (WGU), an accredited online university offering online bachelor's and master's degree programs, has been offering exam-based credit-for-experience for over a decade. The College Board has also been active in the competency-based credit business and its College Level Examination Program (CLEP) provides students of any age with the opportunity to demonstrate college-level achievement through a program of exams in undergraduate college courses. The CLEP program has been quite popular as the registration and administration costs are only about $100 and about 2,900 colleges and universities now accept CLEP exams for credit. The CLEP program offers exams for 33 different courses ranging from math, calculus, history, and social science that are all scored on a scale from 20 to 80 with the majority of schools granting full college credit for scores of 50 or higher. Another college course provider is the Education Portal (EP) that offers free video lessons to prepare students for 18 of the CLEP exams.
The wide array of free online college courses that connect to the CLEP exams help to expand the credit options available to students and in theory, a student could earn almost two full years of nearly free college credits with the exams. The proliferation of so many new low cost online college degree pathways make it easier than ever before to earn college credit, and just like the MOOC tests for credit, the wide availability of CLEP preparation courses is likely to push more students into utilizing these new low cost pathways to fulfilling their dreams of a college education.