A New Approach to College
By Kathleen Knudsen
A generation ago, concerned parents sparked a revolution in primary education with the homeschool movement. Due to the notable success of this movement, thousands of families are now looking for creative college options. In our society today, a college degree often validates an individual's abilities and gives credibility to one's personal character. Tragically, while the cost of college has skyrocketed, the educational success rate seems to plummet.
With the average cumulative tuition, room and board and fees for a bachelor's degree costing more than $100,000 at a private institution, college costs are at an all time high. The National Center for Education Statistics reported that most college graduates embark on life with an average debt of roughly $20,000. With both husband and wife bringing debt into a marriage, a realistic estimated monthly payment would be nearly $500. For a wife who wants to stay home with the children, the husband would logically require a minimum starting salary of $60,000.
Getting accepted into and paying for college is no guarantee of graduation, either. According to recent statistics, only one out of three students entering a four-year public university will graduate. It gets worse with only one in 10 students finishing community college ("Getting in Isn't Enough," The Boston Globe). Additional time does not solve the problem. Mark Schneider, Vice President of New Educational Initiatives at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, observed, "While American high schools graduate about three-fourths of their students in four years, American colleges graduate only about half of their students in six."
After being homeschooled through high school, I finished my college education just before I turned 21 years old. In a time when college costs are astronomical and thousands of students do not complete, I was able to successfully achieve a degree for a fraction of the cost, in half the time. How is that possible? Good question. The answer is accelerated learning through credit-by-exam.
WHAT is it?
Credit-By-Exam (CBE) is simple in concept: study a subject for a short time and then take a cumulative exam to demonstrate proficiency. In essence, it is a unit study approach to academics at the collegiate level. Homeschool families, as well as trade and vocational schools, have successfully used this approach for generations.
HOW does it work?
Widespread testing programs such as CLEP (www.collegeboard.com/clep) and DSST (www.getcollegecredit.com) allow students to earn college credit for as little as $70 per exam. With a unit study approach, a student typically studies a single subject for two weeks, essentially becoming immersed in the topic. At the conclusion of the module, students will drive to a nearby test center, walk in, test and walk out 90 minutes later with 3 more college credits. A quick calculation shows if you need 120 credits for a degree divided into 3 credit courses, you need about 40 classes to graduate from college. Forty courses in two-week modules work out to about a year and a half. Give or take a couple weeks for holidays and breaks, and then add a couple online courses for upper level credits, and students can realistically finish their college education in about two years.
WHAT resources are available?
Type "clep prep" into Google and you will be drowning in results. While at the onset it can seem overwhelming, studying for a CLEP exam is not nearly as difficult as it appears. Updated annually and containing test information and practice exams for each of the 35 CLEP tests, the Official CLEP Study Guide by the College Board is the book most students begin with. You probably want to purchase a test prep booklet and a college textbook (especially recommended for harder tests) as you prepare for the exam. While not comprehensive enough as a sole resource, REA CLEP prep booklets can provide a solid bird's eye view of the subject and be an excellent source of practice exams to test your knowledge. Coupled with a college textbook, it makes for a thorough understanding of a subject.
Resources for upper level exams, however, can be more difficult to find. Since fewer students regularly take these tests, there just are not as many resources available for them. Getcollegecredit.com provides a test description, practice exam, and recommended textbooks for DSST exams. Beyond that, you can find more resources by subscribing to a study service like InstaCert, or enrolling as a student in an advisement program like Verity Institute.
By its nature, accelerated learning is not for everyone. It takes diligence, self-discipline, and creativity—but if that description fits you, I encourage you to take a strong look at this style of education. It could save you thousands of dollars and years of your life!
Homeschooled through high school, Kathleen Knudsen earned her Bachelor's of Science in Business Administration through accelerated learning at age 20. You can e-mail Kathleen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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