Challenging for credits

Cost-conscious college students can earn very low-cost credits by taking a free online course and passing a challenge exam, reports Paul Fain at Inside Higher Ed. 

. . . students can use free course content from providers like the Saylor Foundation and Education Portal to study for “challenge exams,” which may be the fastest and most inexpensive way to earn credits.

The examinations, like those offered by Excelsior College and the College Board’s College Level Examination Program (CLEP), are designed to test whether students grasp the concepts that would be taught in a conventional classroom version of general education courses. In that sense, they combine elements of both competency-based education and prior-learning assessment.

. . . Many, if not most, American colleges and universities accept that the tests are academically rigorous, and have accepted some Excelsior and CLEP exam credits, most of which cost less than $100. Another popular exam package is the U.S. Department of Defense’s DSST, formerly known as the Dantes Subject Standardized Tests, which can earn credit recommendations from the American Council on Education (ACE). And colleges, particularly those that cater to adult students, also develop and offer their own challenge exams for prior-learning credit.

University of Wisconsin-Green Bay sophomore Alex Stenner earned three credits in Psychology 101 during his two week winter vacation. Total cost: $90. Educational Portal’s self-paced course — short video lectures and quizzes —  was free. He paid to take the  CLEP test. His university’s Psych 101 course is taught in a large lecture hall with little chance to make personal connections with professors or fellow students, he says. Why spend the time and money?

“Massive open online courses could also be used by students to prepare for challenge exams,” writes Fain. The California community college system may partner with MOOC providers to help students pass credit-bearing exams, cutting wait lists and easing pressure to squeeze more students into traditional  courses.