Free Freshman Year?

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Yesterday I came across an article called “Free tuition your freshman year? It’s possible at Texas State,” a popular public university south of Austin, TX.

It sounded amazing, but after I finished reading, I was a little let down.

You see, the plan is for students to enroll in free MOOCs, massive online courses, and then take either an AP (Advanced Placement) or CLEP (College Level Examination Program) exam in that subject area to earn college credit. The MOOCs are free, but the exams are not:

  • $92 for each AP exam, plus any fees from the testing center
  • $80 for each CLEP exam, plus any fees (Texas State adds on $40)

If a student wants to earn at least 30 semester credit hours, a full freshman year at most Texas colleges, s/he would need to do well on at least 7 CLEP exams (high scores on the College Composition exam, for instance, can result in 6 semester credit hours) and as many as 10 total. Choosing the right AP exams could yield even more college credits; by my calculations, a student who does well on the AP Biology, English Language and Composition, Spanish, and U.S. History exams would walk into my university with 34 hours from just 4 exams

Don’t get me wrong: $368 – $1200 for a year of college credit is a total deal. But I feel like the program may mislead students into thinking they must take classes in order to take these exams, and that’s just not true. There are open testing centers all over the U.S. where anyone, including non-students, can sign up for testing, present valid ID, and send scores to their preferred college or university.

Could the MOOCs be great review for students who have been out of school for a while? Yes. Texas State is targeting older, working adults. Should the MOOCs include the same covered in a classroom that students need in order to pass a CLEP or AP exam? Sure. Is this a good way for students to get up to speed at a relatively affordable cost? Definitely.

I guess my disappointment comes from the fact that the option to earn college credit from standardized tests is nothing new. With a library book and some Khan Academy videos (heck, they have a whole section on the AP Art History test), many folks can master a subject enough. But folks have to KNOW about the option. Promoting and marketing credit-by-exam to specific populations is a smart move. If Texas State clearly tells students the costs of the exams and the scores needed, it could be the push that some people need to go to or go back to college.


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