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Free College Courses, Cheap Credits, Flexible Pathways

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Contributions to free post-secondary learning opportunities have been breathtaking this year. Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have been around for a while but the number and variety of courses, the investment, and aggregate enrollment exploded this year.

Antioch University announced that it will be first to offer MOOC credit . ACE announced Tuesday that it will evaluate Coursera courses and maintain a transcript registry for students in courses that might receive ACE CREDIT recommendations. Coursera will still be expected to administer and verify individual exams for students -- still a big step in accrediting free college courses.

Competency-based credit isn't exactly new either. WGU has been offering exam-based credit-for-experience for more than a decade. (I was on the board in the early days.)

What I didn't realize until recently is that College Board has also been in the competency-based credit business. The 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.

Exams for 33 courses ranging from math, calculus, history, social science are scored on a scale from 20 to 80 with the majority of schools granting credit for scores of 50 or higher. About 2,900 colleges and universities (about two thirds) accept CLEP exams for credit. Registration and administration costs about $100.

Education Portal , a Silicon Valley startup geared toward preparing students for CLEP exams for free, launched today. The college course provider offers free bite-sized video lessons that prepare learners for 18 of the CLEP exams, which is transferrable to 2,900 college nationwide.

Theoretically a student could earn almost two full years of college with solely club exams, said Education Portal. Yet, it's most often used as a resource for professional development.

Saylor.org also intends to develop a suite of CLEP prep courses. Saylor provides a wide array of free online college courses. "We strongly feel that connecting to CLEP exams, where feasible, usefully expands credit options available to students," said Saylor's Sean Connor.

Like MOOC tests for credit, the availability of CLEP prep courses is likely to boost the number of students utilizing this low cost pathway.

Similarly, we're seeing a proliferation of low cost online degree pathways including Propero, Straighterline, and UniversityNow. It's getting easier to earn low cost college credit -- and harder to run an expensive college.

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