Affordable, Flexible New Approach to College Education - Chicago News and Weather | FOX 32 News

Affordable, Flexible New Approach to College Education

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Times are tough for college students like Inessa Volkonidina, a pre-med student who wants to become a doctor.

"I want to become a general M.D., which is kind of like House," she said.

And just like one of House's patients on TV, she's struggling. Not with some weird disease, but another life-draining condition -- debt.

Searching for some relief, she decided to try an online course and came across a company called "Straighterline."

"Their prices they were good. I mean it's $100," Volkonidina said.

Yes, $100.

“It is cheaper to deliver online that it is face to face,” CEO of Straighterline Burck Smith said.

"The price point that we're offering is extremely affordable -- lower than most community colleges, and we also price it as a subscription model,” Smith explained.

The cost is $99 a month, plus $39 per course. And students work at their own pace.

Volkonidina flew through pre-calculus in about a month.

"The same information that was being taught online is the same exact information you get in school," she said.

Straighterline does not offer full degrees, just core courses that almost all freshmen have to take. Like algebra, English composition and economics.

"If you took every one of our credit-bearing courses you could effectively do your first year of college for under a thousand dollars,” Smith said.

Kevin Carey, policy director for education sector, a non-profit think thank, sees a trend developing.

"I think it's going to become a major part of the higher education landscape," Carey said.

He said one out of five college students already takes a class online.

"There's been a lot of resistance from the traditional institutions who perhaps don't have any interest in having people try out new ideas and offering radically lower prices," he said.

Especially since those large freshmen courses are big money-makers for colleges and universities.

"I did anticipate that there would be controversy and it hasn't disappointed," Smith said.

Smith said he's done a lot to squelch the stigma of online classes.

Straighterline offers advisors, uses the same textbooks colleges use and offers 24-hour tutoring.

"So 2 o’clock in the morning if someone is in a college algebra class and they're struggling they can get live help one-on-one online with someone who's been screened and trained," Smith said.

Carey said he agrees it is changing. He compared higher education to the music industry forever changed by the internet and iTunes.

"People will be in the business of just offering a few classes. They'll focus on what they're good at,” Carey explained. "And students will want to assemble degrees from a variety of different providers."

But even with rising tuition and job cuts, students told us they don't think the cyber world will totally replace campus life.

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