The Chronicle of Higher Ed just reported on StraighterLine’s launch. Titled “Who Needs a Professor?”, the article takes a mildly peeved attitude toward the new product. In this article and in the comments and blogs that it has spawned, it seems the benefits to the student are being roundly ignored. Perhaps this should be expected from a publication that serves professors, however StraigtherLine’s benefits to students, the ones actually paying for college, are profound. Here are the primary ones:
1) Affordability – The media is filled with laments about the rising cost of college. Well, StraighterLine is a way to dramatically reduce the price of the first year to year and a half of college. At $399 per course (just imagine if the government subsidies that support public colleges were applied to this price), this is dramatically lower than most 4 year colleges, private colleges and for-profit schools. It is even lower than many in-state community college tuitions. The next natural question is what do you get for $399?
2) Support – Students in StraighterLine courses get up to 10 hours of 1 on 1 instruction. This is more 1 on 1 instruction than is provided in most other online or face to face courses. Further, this is instruction on-demand. By using SMARTHINKING’s tutors, StraighterLine students get access to an instructor with a master’s degree or PhD within minutes. In a typical course, office hours are often provided limited, inconvenient or provided upon request, if there are office hours at all. Lastly, every SMARTHINKING tutor is screened, trained, and continually evaluated. Colleges typically do not offer their own professors and adjuncts this level of pedagogical development. So, students get more instructional support that is more convenient, more immediate, and more consistent.
3) Flexibility – Students in StraigtherLine courses can start a course within 24 hours of deciding to enroll and they can complete anytime within 6 months. In a traditional course, students are confined to the start and stop dates determined by the school and typically have to wait to start after deciding to enroll.
In addition, it would be helpful to compare the StraighterLine courses with the construction of many (maybe most?) freshman and sophomore general education courses in both online and face to face formats. Given that these courses are frequently taught by adjuncts or teaching assistants, with little or no training, with little or no availability to students beyond the lecture, and students are being charged 2 and 3 times what StraighterLine charges, it seems to me that StraighterLine courses are a welcome option for students seeking to reduce their cost of education.