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Federally Developed and Administered Home Study College Courses for Credit at $10 per Credit Hour  

College tuition costs have escalated to the point that a college education is beyond the means of most people. We need an inexpensive means for students to learn college course material and document that learning in course credits for university degrees.

The majority of courses at the undergraduate level are the same in all universities.  Many courses have been the same for half a century or more.  Calculus, physics, and mechanics courses were the same for me at Purdue in 1961 as they were for my children at Ohio State in the 1990s, and they are now.    While the effectiveness of instructors has varied greatly, very good text books have stood the test of time.  Those books define the courses and are still there to teach new students.

We should create a national program to allow students to receive credit for courses by home study and passing locally proctored tests. The standards for credits received through this program must be high.  If the program is properly administered, these credits will be better regarded than credits from many colleges where the standards are uncertain.

These credits should be recognized by all state universities. Private universities will follow in recognizing these credits due to the competitive environment and recognition of the standards maintained.

Program courses may be supported by downloaded text books, recorded lectures, online blogs, FAQ lists, worked sample problems, interactive software, etc.  Private enterprise or voluntary organizations may offer supplemental learning materials, tutoring or organized classroom support.  For example, Khan Academy, the free learning environment, could and likely would develop videos to support the courses. 

 After a short period of initial program development, the cost of the program should be borne by the fees charged to the students. The course development costs would be minimal (a few cents) when spread over the large student group. Test development would be a little more (a dollar or two per student). Where multiple choice tests are appropriate, tests would be optical scan machine graded at minimal cost. A larger cost would be incurred for tests which must be hand graded.  Test proctoring might cost several dollars per test.  The target total cost should be about $10 per credit hour.

Every course won’t work for every student.  In a given course, some students may thrive in a home study environment while others may need the traditional classroom setting.  Some courses may require a student/instructor interaction or a lab environment and not be amenable to this program.  The idea is for the student to use the home study approach where it works for him or her and thereby cut the cost of his education.

This program may allow a typical student to avoid the high tuition for one third to one half of a college degree.  It will increase the demand for the traditional university courses because more students will pursue degrees.  Most importantly, it will help students achieve and will help us meet the national need for a more educated workforce.

Certification programs meeting more specific workforce needs can be developed by private organizations.  Those programs can prescribe these affordable courses as part of their curriculum. 

More detailed thoughts:

1. A very detailed synopsis would be developed for each course. It would include a list of recommended textbooks which cover all of the course material.

2. As with a typical university course, there would be two or three interim tests and a comprehensive final.

3. A course grade would be assigned (A, A-, B+, ...)

4. Certified proctors would be used to administer the tests in local high schools, community colleges, civic centers, etc.  Licensed high school teachers could fill this requirement. 

5. Qualified volunteer and paid tutors would be sought.

6. Target cost would be $10 per credit hour. 

7. Learning materials would typically be emailed to the student or downloaded from web pages.

8. Sample problems with solutions would be provided for technical courses (like Schaum's Outline).

9. Tests would be sent through secure channels to the proctors.  Students would not be allowed to retain or copy tests to  preclude the building of test files.

10. Recorded lectures will be valuable to many courses.

11. Teleconferences could be considered.

12. Contracting out this effort should be avoided.  A contractor objective would be run up the program cost to increase profit.  If contracting it out is allowed (or consultant contracts used), limits should be placed on salaries and bonuses.  Renowned professors would not be needed.  (My experience at Purdue was that the more renowned the professor was, the worse teacher he or she was.)