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Global Freshman Academy: Creating Access and Overcoming Early MOOC Setbacks

The EvoLLLution | Global Freshman Academy: Creating Access and Overcoming Early MOOC Setbacks
Through its innovative pricing model, the Global Freshman Academy is looking to create access to for-credit higher education to underserved student demographics.

The American labor market is desperate for more degree-holders. Nearly half (48 percent) of American adults have a high school diploma but no postsecondary credential, but enrollment numbers are staying stagnant. According to a recent Lumina poll, conducted by Gallup, 79 percent of Americans do not think higher education is affordable. Through their Global Freshman Academy program, edX and Arizona State University (ASU) aim to change that. The program charges $45 to enroll in the Verified Track of selected courses, then up to $200 upon completion of each course if the student chooses to be awarded university credit for their effort. Upon completing eight of the 12 offered courses, the student will have earned credit for a full freshman year of university. In this email Q&A, Anant Agarwal dispels some of the myths around the Global Freshman Academy and shares his thoughts on what the future holds for the program.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): Why did edX team up with ASU to launch the Global Freshman Academy program?

Anant Agarwal (AA): ASU and edX are aligned in the shared mission to provide quality higher education
that is accessible and affordable to everyone around the world.

The Global Freshman Academy will become one of the most affordable and most streamlined options for students to earn college-level freshman year credit. Partnering with edX will also provide ASU with a cutting-edge learning platform to deliver high-quality education to a global learner population.

Evo: MOOCs have been relatively unsuccessful in attracting students who haven’t earned degrees; how will this new set of courses overcome this issue?

AA: We see this program reaching a different student population. From the beginning, many edX learners have told us that they are looking for flexible, accessible pathways to earning college credit through the high-quality MOOCs we offer on our platform. With the Global Freshman Academy, more students around the world who ordinarily would not have the option to enroll in a traditional community college or state university will be able to find a pathway to education and credit.

Furthermore, the Global Freshman Academy will provide learners with another option to tackle the difficult transition to college. By opening up the college learning experience to a broader global audience of learners, and enabling low-risk exploration of college courses, we are helping to increase the number of potential college and university students and increase access to education.

Additionally, by allowing students to learn, explore and complete courses before applying or paying for credit, the Global Freshman Academy reimagines the freshman year and reduces academic and monetary stress while opening a new path to a college degree for many students.

Evo: How will edX and ASU collaborate to provide GFA students the support they need to persist through their courses?

AA: Each Global Freshman Academy course will be built on the edX platform and will include rich media, interactive assessments, discussion forums, student progress dashboards and other interactive learning tools and features. Each course will be designed to deliver a specific academic objective, aiming to make each course as dynamic, interesting and useful as possible. Courses will be designed based on the experience and expertise of the Global Freshman Academy faculty.

Evo: What will be the main pathway for edX to recover the costs of creating these courses?

AA: The cost of creating these courses will be shared by edX and ASU. We will also share revenues that are generated by students who choose to apply for and pay for verified certificates and credit options.

Evo: What is your long-term vision for the GFA program?

AA: It’s important to realize that the Global Freshman Academy is opening up higher education to an even larger population of learners. Higher education isn’t a zero sum game. It’s not about taking students away from other universities, but rather it is about providing even more high-quality education options and welcoming new populations of students from around the world.

The Global Freshman Academy represents a new, transformative learning pathway, making it possible for students to register and pay for college credit upon completion of the course. This model will fundamentally alter the anxiety around freshman year—academically and financially—for students while providing a unique pathway into a degree program.

EdX was founded with three parts to our mission: increase access to education, enhance teaching and learning on campus and online and advance teaching and learning through research. These three goals drive everything that we do, including the Global Freshman Academy, and we believe these goals will help improve education as a whole overall for learners around the globe. With edX, anyone, anywhere in the world with Internet access and desire to learn can access high-quality education. Until relatively recently, high-quality education has been available to only a few. By democratizing and reimagining, we aim to create a culture of continuous, lifelong learning for students around the world.

We look forward to continuing to evolve the Global Freshman Academy to meet students needs and thus usher in new, non-traditional learning pathways to help more students access high-quality education. We are excited to see how credit-bearing MOOCs evolves and improves education.

Evo: What needs to change across the broader higher education spectrum for programs like the GFA to become more commonplace?

AA: MOOCs won’t replace universities, but rather enhance the quality of education by incorporating blended learning and offering non-traditional pathways into higher education, such as the Global Freshman Academy. In blended classrooms, the on-campus university course can leverage the power of MOOCs to free up classroom time for interactive collaboration and discussion, testing, and problem solving.

The use of online learning also allows edX and its partner institutions to conduct research into how students learn in order to improve on-campus and online education. By experimenting with a unique entry point to an undergraduate degree (no prerequisites or tuition upfront), edX and ASU can innovate and experiment to see what works best for learners and their educational journey.

Innovative partnerships and options, like the Global Freshman Academy, need to continue to help develop new entry points to higher education and increase access to high-quality education for more and more students.

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