Varied Options Offer Access to Higher Education

It is a generally accepted fact that the more education a person has the greater their chance of economic well-being. There also is a reality that not everyone has broad or easy access to higher education. Multiple proposals and solutions to improve access to higher education are proof that this issue affects many people and demands solutions. Whether the idea of free college is practical or not, it’s clear that there is urgency behind the need for more people to access and attain higher education.

The July U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee report Education: The Foundation for Economic Success addresses the importance of access to higher education. It states, ”Not all Americans have access to the education that allows them to succeed. There are sharp divisions in educational attainment by income level, race, ethnicity, and geography. When our education system leaves some behind, it produces divisions in our workforce and society that follow people through their lifetimes and into the next generation.” Currently, there are a variety of proposals and plans to create better access to higher education for all.
• Several states have created Promise Scholarships, free tuition programs and free community college offerings.
• Many higher education institutions have created online course studies, MOOCS and alternative education platforms.
• A growing number of businesses offer tuition assistance plans for their employees’ education.

This month Modern States Education Alliance introduced a new program that gives students access to higher education. It presents what could be an effective way for adult learners to go back to school and finish their education. “Freshman Year for Free” offers courses created with edX, the MOOC developer from Harvard and MIT. Professors at major universities such as Harvard, Boston University, Arizona State University, George Washington University MIT, Rice, Purdue, Columbia and NYU developed and teach courses. As an alternative to a regular online course, students take a course from the Freshman Year for Free offerings. Upon completion take an AP exam or CLEP exam to receive credit. Anyone can take the courses, but they were developed especially for students who do well with this alternative approach to earning credits.

This method of earning credit could give be advantage for adult learners, nontraditional students, or anyone who wants to accelerate their process toward a degree. The average age of CLEP test takers is 26, and they can earn three to five credits per course when they pass a CLEP test. CLEP programs are especially popular with veterans and students who are on active military duty because of the ability to earn credits without the need to attend classes on a strict schedule.

Angela Boatman, an assistant professor of public policy and higher education at Vanderbilt University has studied data from thousands of CLEP test takers. “She and her research colleagues have found that students at community colleges who passed at least one CLEP test were 17 percent more likely to complete their associate degree than were those who hadn’t taken the test.”

As education policy makers continue to seek ways to improve access to higher education, making students aware of opportunities will increase individual education attainment. It will also help develop a strong labor force. The Joint Economic Committee report states, “Education holds tremendous value, and overall educational attainment has been on the rise. But access to higher education varies widely across the country, and many groups of Americans are being left behind in a labor market that increasingly requires more education. To ensure that all Americans have a pathway to achieve the American Dream, everyone must have access to the educational institutions that enable Americans to succeed in the labor market, including an affordable college education.”