With student debt loan rising—which currently exceeds $30,000 on average for recent graduates—non-profit Modern States Education Alliance™ sought to address the college affordability problem.
The solution? Offering the ability for prospective students to earn college credit at no cost.
As part of the Fast Start initiative, which was first launched at Purdue University in 2020, students can enroll in courses to prepare for the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) distributed by the College Board.
Over 30 courses in subjects such as math, history, English, biology, accounting and Spanish are available online. Designed as self-paced courses taught by university professors, the average length of completion is 20 hours. Courses are flexible to fit students’ learning needs and online transcripts are available to print.
“We worked very hard to find and recruit professors who are not only experts in their field but also who would be engaging in an online format,” said David Vise, executive director of Modern States. “I know a lot of teachers were thrown into the position during COVID-19 of using Zoom and were not given the training to keep students attention online. These courses were meant to be online and available 24/7 from the start.”
Upon passing five Modern States courses and credit-bearing exams, students have guaranteed admission to Purdue.
“[Purdue] has had thousands of students across the state who have already started,” said Vise. “And this is in a year with COVID-19. So, it was not easy to get this going for them, but they’ve got a lot of students signed up.”
Now, as part of their commitment to support historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), Modern States recently announced a partnership with Morgan State University located in Baltimore.
Recreating the Purdue model, the Morgan Fast Start program is designed specifically for Maryland high school students.
“We are excited that we are the first HBCU to participate in this,” said Dr. Kara Turner, vice president for enrollment management and student success at Morgan. “I think it can provide access to students who may have considered the cost of college to be a barrier. On the other hand, it will help students who are high ability and ready to go ahead and get through college quicker and make their mark on the world.”
To be eligible for admission, students must meet standard Morgan requirements and pass four Modern States courses and CLEP exams. College credit is received for each of the courses—equating to over $8,000 in savings for a semester and $16,000 for the whole school year.
“That is a 25% savings on the cost of college,” said Vise. “And it ensures also that Morgan State will get and attract students who either are or become highly motivated. Since high school students are so busy already, for them to do this on top of that shows just how motivated they are.”
The cost of the courses, textbooks and other materials are made available to students for free due to a donation from Modern States’ Founder and CEO Steven Klinsky and his wife, novelist Maureen Sherry Klinsky. The funding covers up to 10,000 online college courses and CLEP exam costs.
Additionally, the non-profit also receives monetary support from the Heckscher Foundation, Carnegie Foundation and the Starr Foundation.
“We are honored that my family and Modern States can play a role in attracting great students to Morgan State and other HBCUs,” said Klinsky. “This commitment to HBCUs helps broaden our mission of helping all people afford a better education in order to reach their full potential.”
In addition to reducing the financial burden, the program can be used as a recruitment strategy. For example, Purdue looked to bring in more rural and inter-city students within the state of Indiana while Morgan State plans to target hard-to-reach prospective students.
Set to begin this fall, Turner’s goal is to eventually recruit around 100 students per year through the program.
“Morgan State’s motto is “Growing the Future, Leading the World,” said Vise. “We feel like that was a great fit for what it is we are trying to do to help students. Morgan State has been around for more than 150 years. It is an outstanding university and we are just very happy to be able to begin building with Morgan State.”
Looking forward, Modern States plans to partner with more HBCUs. This in turn could result in more than $10 million in savings on tuition and other college expenses for HBCU students—who are disproportionately effected by student loan debt.
Sarah Wood can be reached at [email protected].