Four years later, validation for StraighterLine’s cut-rate online college courses

The edtech startup offers low-cost courses for students who were initially turned away by online colleges. Its model was bashed four years ago but has become increasingly en vogue.

StraighterLine helps get students ready for further online study.

(Photo by Flickr user Sixth Lie, used under a Creative Commons license)

A Baltimore-based edtech company that aims to be a “low-risk, low-cost trial period” for online college students who may not initially pass muster now has ties to about 80 institutions, according to education news site Inside Higher Ed.


(Courtesy of StraighterLine)

The college-focused publication recently checked in with StraighterLine, finding a national leader in competency education. That’s not what the publication found the last time it checked in. A Washington Post article from 2011 called the Inside Higher Ed report then a “stinging critique.”
Tuesday’s Inside Higher Ed article was different:

Four years ago Inside Higher Ed ran a series of articles that found academic problems with some of StraighterLine’s courses. Smith, however, said the company’s current roster of 40-plus general-education courses has passed multiple reviews by the American Council Education. Those reviews, which are conducted by academics, are the basis for council-issued credit recommendations.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has recognized StraighterLine’s quality. And the Council for Aid to Education, which designs student assessments, built some of the tests StraighterLine students take.


In 2010, StraighterLine’s model was new, and, according to CEO Burck Smith, Inside Higher Ed didn’t fairly evaluate them. The praise in the recent article, he said, is symbolic of increased national acceptance of low-cost, online education offerings.
“It’s moved from being this radical thing to something the DOE (U.S. Department of Education) has put into their reform agenda,” Smith told Baltimore.
The company aims to help students who have been turned away from an increasingly competitive online college world. Credits from StraighterLine courses, which typically cost $49, are honored at partner institutions who later admit the students. Among the company’s partners is Salt Lake City-based Western Governors University, which has been referring students it doesn’t admit straight to StraighterLine. According to Inside Higher Ed, WGU admits 94 percent of students who complete at least two StraighterLine courses.
StraighterLine currently partners with three colleges based in Maryland: University of Maryland University College, Cecil College and Capitol Technology University. The company is looking to expand further.
“We’d love to have more Baltimore colleges,” Smith said.

Companies: StraighterLine
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