In a post I called “A Modest Proposal” in May of 2012 I suggested that it might be possible to devise a core curriculum that college students could take online prior to enrolling in college to pursue their degree. It is not the best of all possible worlds, because online college courses are known for their high drop-out rates and there is simply no substitute for one-on-one teacher/student engagement in the classroom. But given the fact that the vast majority of our colleges are simply not requiring their students to do much more than wander aimlessly through a maze of elective courses — with no rhyme or reason — coupled with the rising costs of higher education, my proposal seemed the lesser of evils, as it were.
Lo and behold, the group I have referred to in a number of previous blogs, including the blog referred to above, The American Council of Trustees and Alumni, has proposed precisely the sort of thing I dreamed up nearly a year ago. No, I will not sue for plagiarism! I am not the litigious type. I prefer to think that great minds eventually come to the similar conclusions. Clearly, the condition of higher education — which I have alluded to more times than I care to recall — demands some sort of remedy. And the popularity and lower expense of the internet suggests the wisdom of allowing students to get the basic grounding in substantive courses they require in order to become engaged citizens in an ever-changing world. Major requirements and some elective courses can come later in a two-year program on campus.
The ACTA’s proposal is called “StraighterLine” and it allows students to take six of the seven core courses online they have determined are the sine qua non of an educated person — courses in composition, literature, U.S. government or history, economics, math, and science. This curriculum will be available later this year and will soon be followed by a second intermediate-level course in foreign language, thus fulfilling the seven course requirement the ACTA has determined will best serve the students of tomorrow. All courses will be available online at a greatly reduced cost to the student.
Indeed, the seven proposed courses will cost the students less than $2,000.00 and will therefore be very attractive in an era in which costs have skyrocketed and students are graduating with narrow vision and huge debt. As the ACTA Newsletter said in announcing the program, “The times are changing in higher education. While ACTA’s focus remains on traditional institutions, our message of access, affordability, and quality of education extends to new platforms of learning.” I do not endorse the program without a few qualifications (as one can imagine), but I think it is a huge step in the right direction. I applaud the ACTA for making what I think will turn out to be a vast improvement in American higher education. The faculties of our colleges have fumbled the ball and the ACTA has picked it up and are heading for the goal line. (No, I am not being paid for this endorsement!)