Affordable College Is Here | Beaufort County Now

At TEL Library we’ve taken a major step toward reducing the cost of college with the launch of our Courses-on-Demand program. james g. martin center, affordable college, TEL library, cost of college, february 7, 2020
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Affordable College Is Here

Publisher's note: The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal is a nonprofit institute dedicated to improving higher education in North Carolina and the nation. Located in Raleigh, North Carolina, it has been an independent 501(c)(3) organization since 2003. It was known as the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy until early January 2017.

The author of this post is Vance Fried.


    At TEL Library we've taken a major step toward reducing the cost of college with the launch of our Courses-on-Demand program. Through this program, students anywhere in the U.S. can take college courses that are entirely self-paced and allow students to start anytime they desire. The all-inclusive cost of these courses is $44 per credit hour, which includes all fees and course materials.

    For those waxing nostalgic about the good old days when college was affordable, this is better than the good old days. Inflation-adjusted to 1970 dollars, our pricing translated to $6.68 a credit hour, and that's without a dime of state or federal subsidy.

    TEL Library is a non-profit educational publishing and technology organization located in Oklahoma City. Our mission is to make a quality college education affordable for anyone, anywhere, at any time. We aren't an accredited college, but rather partner with regionally accredited colleges and universities to provide online and blended college general education and advanced high school courses. We piloted our courses with 998 students in 2019 and are now making them available to the public through our Courses-on-Demand program.

    Our Courses-on-Demand program is designed for people who are

  1. Current college students taking a few courses through TEL to speed up degree completion and lower the total cost (e.g. summer school),
  2. High school students wanting college credit independent of their high school's dual credit program,
  3. Homeschoolers,
  4. Non-traditional students taking a few courses to ease into, or finish up, a degree program, and
  5. Life-learners wanting a structured learning experience. Anybody 13 or older can enroll.

    Currently, we have 16 courses available, such as U.S. History I, Chemistry, Literature & Composition, and Quantitative Analysis. By fall 2020, we'll have added three more courses, and by fall 2021, we should have a complete catalog of general education courses. That's more than 80 credit hours, or well over two years of college.

    With the Courses-on-Demand Program, students enroll online to take TEL courses, which have been reviewed and approved for college credit by partner universities. Courses may vary somewhat by partner college based on the partner college's academic standards and institutional mission. Students are not eligible for financial aid or partner college support services (e.g. counseling services, professional development activities, internships).

    Upon successful completion of a course, a partner university awards credit to the student and provides a transcript reflecting the letter grade earned. Credits from these courses count toward a degree at the partner university, or can generally be transferred to another regionally accredited college.

    The student pays $99 per course for a 3-credit-hour course. That $99 includes all course materials and instruction, as well as technology and exam proctoring fees. In addition, the student pays the partner college a $200 annual enrollment fee that covers up to six courses, then $33 for any courses above the six-course limit. If the student only takes one course in the year, their cost is $299, or $100 a credit hour. For six courses and up, the student pays $44 a credit hour. That means a student can take a year of college for $1,320.

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    Our initial partner college is Greenville University in Illinois. We will be adding additional partners in the future. All partner colleges for the Courses-on-Demand program are regionally accredited colleges. That accreditation is important for purposes of easy transferability. Course credits from a regionally accredited college are almost universally accepted by colleges anywhere in the United States.

    Some colleges limit the number of credit hours they will accept from other institutions, but this is not a problem for our students. Except for some of the toniest of private institutions, colleges generally accept two or more years of transfer credit toward a degree. The most common problem with course-transfer is that some courses do not align precisely with a similar course required at a particular college. In such cases, the student still receives credit for their transferred coursework but may also have to take the college's required course. Given the fairly generic coverage of general education courses, this is usually not an issue for our courses.

    TEL Library courses are for almost everyone except those who aren't willing to study. Each course requires 145 to 155 hours of study. While our content is rigorous, it is also understandable. Our lessons are intentionally designed to provide a clear context for each course concept, and then move students through the stages of information elaboration, relevance, agency, and mastery. That design allows students to absorb the information more readily and apply it in meaningful ways. Courses consist of 10 to 15 modules, and each module contains 4 to 6 lessons.

    Courses have multiple assessment methods to move students toward comprehension. Each lesson contains a formative self-check quiz that students can take as many times as they wish for study and review. Each module contains a short auto-graded quiz over the lessons in that module. Communication and English Composition courses require five written essays or recorded speeches that are human graded. All other courses have a summative midterm and final exam.

    These auto-graded exams are proctored online through integration with MonitorEDU. Online proctoring allows the student to take the exam anywhere they have an internet connection. MonitorEDU provides 24/7 live exam proctoring using a computer or smartphone video camera and screen-capture technology to assist the student with any technical question-and to monitor for cheating. The process is extremely convenient for the student and less susceptible to cheating than a traditional in-class exam.

    Each course also contains multiple mastery assignments customized to each course. Those mastery assignments could be lab reports, recorded presentations, and written essays. Mastery assignments are graded by course instructors and also engage students in self and peer evaluation.

    Through integration with Peerceptiv's research-validated technology, each course provides a mix of instructor, self, and peer grading. (E.g., in the U.S. History I course, the five mastery assignments walk the student through the process of researching and writing a formal essay.) The first three assignments are graded by the instructor, but also use detailed evaluation rubrics to give students an objective framework to provide peer feedback to each other. That peer-review process promotes content mastery through reflection and individual ownership of learning. The final two assignments are graded only by the instructor, using structured rubrics for evaluation and feedback.

    TEL courses promote content mastery through reflection and individual ownership of learning. That's why we encourage students to set goals for their learning and apply course concepts to their own individual circumstances. In addition, courses are aligned with 21st-century skills and competencies via TEL Mastery Standards. Course exams and mastery assignments are mapped to individual TEL mastery standards (e.g., Problem Solving, Critical Thinking, Computation, Technology Application, and Self-Management), allowing the students to track their progress on skills needed for the modern working world.

    TEL Library course requirements are straightforward and easy to follow. When students have questions, they can contact TEL Support quickly via chat, email, or phone. We respond to student issues within 4 business hours and grade written exams and assignments within 72 hours.

    In a nutshell, our Courses-on-Demand are top-quality, yet radically affordable. It's part of our commitment to making education "good enough for the richest, yet cheap enough for the poorest."

    Vance Fried is president of the TEL Library and Riata Professor Emeritus of Entrepreneurship at Oklahoma State University.

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