Harvard and Ohio State are not going to disappear any time soon. But a host of new online enterprises are making earning a college degree cheaper, faster and flexible enough to take work experience into account. As Wikipedia upended the encyclopedia industry and iTunes changed the music business, these businesses have the potential to change higher education.
Ryan Yoder, 35, a computer programmer who had completed 72 credits at the University of South Florida years ago, signed up with an outfit called Straighterline, paid $216 to take two courses in accounting and one in business communication, and a month later transferred the credits to Thomas Edison State College in New Jersey, which awarded him a bachelor’s degree in June.
Alan Long, 34, a paramedic and fire captain, used another new institution, Learning Counts, to create a portfolio that included his certifications and a narrative spelling out what he had learned on the job. He paid $750 to Learning Counts and came out with seven credits at Ottawa University in Kansas, where he would have had to spend $2,800 to earn them in a traditional classroom.
And Erin Larson, who has four children and works full time at a television station but wanted to become a teacher, paid $3,000 per semester to Western Governors University for as many classes as she could handle — plus a weekly call from a mentor. “Anywhere else, it would have cost three arms and legs,” said Ms. Larson, 40, “and as a certified procrastinator, I found that weekly call very useful.”