Education Venture to Offer ‘Freshman Year for Free’ Online

Rudy Takala | January 19, 2015 | 4:10pm EST
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( -- The non-profit Modern States Education Alliance announced a $1 million program to reduce the cost of attending college by providing a year of free college courses online to anyone wishing to enroll.

Last Thursday's announcement came just weeks after President Obama announced that he plans to offer a “free” community college education to qualifying students at a cost to taxpayers of $60 billion over ten years, according to White House estimates.

Modern States is seeking to enable students to participate in Massively Open Online Courses, also known as MOOCs. Created by Stanford Computer Science Professor Sebastian Thrun in 2011, MOOCs enable students to take courses from prominent universities online.

Modern States will work with nonprofit educational provider edX, which partners with institutions such as Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to provide the program’s coursework.

Modern States describes itself as a “nonprofit whose goal is to create a path to a tuition-free, high-quality and universally-accessible college education for any motivated students who seek one.”

“We live at an exceptional moment where the world’s most elite universities are offering their finest courses free of charge to everyone around the world,” the group stated on its website.

Since their inception just over three years ago, the popularity of MOOCs has grown rapidly. In its Report Card on American Education last October, the American Legislative Exchange Council gave 17 states an “A” grade for offering the highest possible level of access to online learning opportunities - including MOOCs - to their K-12 students.

Dhawal Shah, the founder of MOOC-provider Class Central, estimated in 2013 that students could choose from some 1,200 courses taught by more than 1,300 instructors from 200 universities worldwide. He estimated the number of students taking advantage of such opportunities at the time at 10 million.

The donation from Modern States will enable edX to create new online courses, including calculus, U.S. history, and Chinese language. Modern States and edX have set a goal of offering every subject covered by a high school Advanced Placement (AP) or College Level Examination Program (CLEP) exam within the next 18 months. Students would be able to take the courses both during and after high school.

The courses will include online discussion, quizzes, tests, and assignments. Unlike traditional classrooms, course texts will be offered for free. Modern States says it intends to add other online services such as tutoring and counseling over time.

MOOCs offer students greater flexibility than traditional classrooms because they can choose from a greater selection of instructors and course offerings and work on their own schedule. Unlike traditional colleges, MOOCs also allow students to take college-level courses irrespective of of their age or educational status.

Modern States spokesman David Vise told that such flexibility was something that could help students from all walks of life pursue higher education.

“This is a path forward for all students to get started with college and a road back for students who may have started college, left for whatever reason, and are looking for a way to get back on the higher education track,” Vise said.

Financier Steven Klinsky, the founder of Modern States, has engaged in various philanthropic educational ventures for several decades. He also founded Victory Education Partners, an advisory firm for charter schools, and contributes financially to after-school centers in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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