The name itself sounds appealing to anyone looking to cut the cost of college—the “Freshman Year for Free” program. Launched in August 2017 by Modern States Educational Alliance, the program provides more than 40 free online courses taught by top professors from top schools. Once students complete a course, they take an AP or CLEP exam giving them the opportunity to earn traditional academic credits at more than 2,900 major colleges and universities. We asked Steve Klinsky, founder and CEO of Modern States Educational Alliance to tell us more about the program and how it works.
MCPT: About how many hours does it take to complete an online class?
Klinsky: There is no minimum or maximum time limit to complete the online courses. Classes are self-paced and students can complete the work on their own schedules.
MCPT: Can students start a class at any time? Is there is a set amount of time they have to complete a course
Klinsky: Yes, students can start a class at any time. There is not a set amount of time to complete a course; learners can tackle a course at their own pace.
MCPT: Is the aim of your Freshman Year for Free program just to help give low-income students or students who don’t have access to AP classes at their schools a leg up, or can other students benefit as well?
Klinsky: The program is open to everyone. Anyone, anywhere and of any age can benefit from Modern States, from high school to college to working adults and lifelong learners. According to the College Board, tuition and fees at four-year colleges jumped 71 percent over the last decade, putting the college experience out of reach for many Americans, and total student debt is now about $1.4 trillion. Whether someone takes one course or enough credits to fulfill their freshman year requirements, “Freshman Year for Free” provides an on-ramp to college. It is also useful for students who don’t have access to AP classes.
MCPT: What assistance do you offer to students who can’t afford the cost of an AP or CLEP exam? How do they know if they qualify for assistance?
Klinsky: The College Board charges $85 per CLEP exam which is far cheaper than normal college tuition, and Modern States itself is paying the exam fees for the first 10,000 test takers. This offer is open to everyone; there is no test for income levels. Learners must complete the coursework first, but there is no limit on the number of courses and tests an individual can take.
The Modern States program’s lectures, textbooks, readings, quizzes and practice tests are all provided entirely for free, like a public library of great college courses. With Modern States, there are no barriers to entry, including fees or applications; all that’s needed is an internet connection and the motivation to learn.
MCPT: If students want to earn a year’s worth of college credit, when should they start taking online classes?
Klinsky: Students are encouraged to begin Modern States’ courses whenever they have the time. The courses are self-paced and can be completed whenever the student is able. Most students seem to take one course at a time.
MCPT: Some colleges and universities restrict how many AP or CLEP credits a student can receive and which courses they will accept credit for. Are there any guidelines you can offer students who want to start taking AP or CLEP exams but don’t yet know where they want to apply to college or what they want to study?
Klinsky: CLEP is the most widely accepted credit-by-examination program, available at more than 2,900 colleges and universities, such as Purdue, Michigan State, Penn State and many others. The College Board features Modern States among the online resources for those preparing for the CLEP exam. With regard to guidelines for how many and which AP or CLEP courses a college provides, learners can Google a college and the word “CLEP” or “AP” to find out which ones they accept for credit. If a student is considering a number of different colleges, check all of them to be fully informed.
MCPT: Why isn’t this program getting more visibility?
Klinsky: The program is new. Modern States has been featured in The Washington Post, Wired Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, on NBC Radio and elsewhere, but we still have a long way to go to reach our goals for awareness and visibility. The courses are high-quality. We want to help as many learners as possible. It offers a practical, low-cost, real-world way of tackling the higher education inequity problem in the U.S., filling an unmet need in the American higher education system.
To help bring the program to more learners, we encourage others to contact us and find out how we can partner to make college more affordable and accessible. Together, we can form an “ecosystem” to provide a high-quality path to higher education for everyone.
MCPT: Does the Freshman Year for Free program hurt colleges’ revenue or does making college more affordable help them by getting more students into college? How do you think college and university administrators see it?
Klinsky: The “Freshman Year for Free” program is an on-ramp to traditional college. We’ve built alliances with leading colleges and universities that are looking to make higher education more affordable and that give credit for passing CLEP and AP scores. Public colleges and university systems in New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Michigan, Texas, Tennessee, Georgia, Colorado and elsewhere, representing more than 1 million students, support Modern States’ goals of making college more affordable and accessible.
Today, admissions officers, college advisers, and other academic professionals are Modern States’ advocates, educating prospective and current students on how our courses can help them save both time and money.
MCPT: In previous generations, CLEP was much more popular. We talk to a lot of families who have never heard of it. Why is that?
Klinsky: CLEP is one of higher-education’s “best-kept secrets.” This year marks the 50th anniversary of the program, but it has not been promoted in the same way as the SAT and AP exams. Accepted at thousands of accredited colleges and universities, CLEP is remarkably valuable to a wide range of learners, from high schoolers to working adults.
Last year, even before Modern States, approximately 175,000 students took a CLEP exam, including many members of the military. A 2016 study showed that students who received credits through a prior-learning assessment, such as CLEP, were more likely to complete their degrees than students who didn’t. Modern States is working to tell more people about the extraordinary value of CLEP, particularly now that our Modern States courses exist.
MCPT: Can you give us some numbers on the program so far?
Klinsky: More than 30,000 learners have registered on ModernStates.org. Hundreds have already taken CLEP exams for credit, paid for by us. More than 70 percent of students who take a Modern States course and take a CLEP exam, have passed the test.