Even when studying at the college level, there’s a sensible order to education. Students begin their academic career by taking introductory, foundational courses. Once they have completed these classes and gained the background knowledge necessary, they move on to intermediate levels of study, and then finally advanced courses. Students at traditional colleges spend a good deal of time and tuition money completing foundational courses, but taking these foundational courses online rather than on campus could help them cut some of the costs of their education.

Making Freshman Year Free

In January 2015, nonprofit organization Modern States Education Alliance, founded by philanthropist Steven Klinsky, announced that it would make a $1 million donation to expand course offerings in massive open online courses, or MOOCs, reported CNS News.

How does expanding MOOCs, which typically give the student no college credit, make college more affordable? When students take their introductory or foundational courses online as MOOCs, they don’t have to pay for tuition or even textbooks. After they have completed a course, students could then take the Advanced Placement (AP) or College Level Examination Program (CLEP) examination for college credit. If they pass, they can essentially “test out” of taking (and paying for) these foundational courses at either a traditional or a typical online college. Instead, students start their actual college career as sophomores instead of freshmen, shaving off a quarter of the cost of their college educations.

Though the MOOCs themselves won’t offer college credit, students will have to take them as seriously as they would take a for-credit course if they want to gain the knowledge and skills to pass an AP or CLEP examination. They will complete course readings, online discussions, papers, assignments, tests and possibly even group projects. While these students won’t pay tuition as college freshmen, they can still receive a rigorous education. If students begin taking these MOOCs while they are still in high school, they may even be able to finish their college education before they would have graduated going the traditional route.

Foundational Courses

The goal of the project is to establish MOOCs that prepare students to take every existing AP or CLEP test. These courses will be offered in a wide range of subjects from history to science, from literature to business and from art history to foreign language studies. Existing courses already include calculus and Chinese, CNS News reported.

Introductory courses have in important role in education. Without them, students would never develop the basic knowledge and background of skills they need to understand advanced studies. However, just because foundational courses are important doesn’t mean that taking them in the traditional way, on campus or online, is the only or best way to gain that knowledge. By enrolling in MOOCs and testing out of taking the actual foundational courses at a traditional or online college, students can save money, enjoy the flexibility of distance learning and possibly even graduate early without sacrificing the value of their education.