If We Can’t Make Tuition Cheaper, We Should Make College Credit Cheaper

One of the more innovative education reform ideas out there is the Early College High School Initiative (The Gates Foundation is its sugar-daddy). The Initative’s key goal is to condense the first two years of college into the four years of high school so that students can graduate with a significant number of college credits. So far it has founded or redesigned 230 schools.

More importantly, its mission is a reminder that while college tuition is very expensive, college credits are occasionally very cheap — in addition to Early College High Schools, things like AP classes, internships, and co-op programs provide a way for students to acquire inexpensive college credit.  Given that universities still have no incentive to lower tuition, reformers might have more success by focusing on inexpensive ways for students to get college credit.

One benefit of focusing on credit is that universities will have a hard time blocking reform. For example, the AP program is sponsored by the College Board, and while the College Board is certainly complicit in exacerbating the costs of higher education , its reputation allows for credentialing that colleges accept. There is no reason we can’t create a new set of tuition-free, college credit programs based on real-world experience, particularly if vocal government support makes it a PR nightmare for universities to opt out them.

In addition to saving students money, college credit programs will result in young people who have more valuable skills. If I had a choice between hiring somebody who studied biology for four years, or somebody who studied biology for three years and then worked in a lab for a year, I’d take the second person.

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