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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

‘Freshman year for free’ is here

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Free college is a reality — not just a campaign promise — writes Steve Klinsky, founder and CEO of the Modern States Education Alliance, which has launched its Freshman Year for Free initiative. Forty for-credit courses, designed by top professors, are available online.

Now, anyone can go to, the way they go to Netflix, and choose a college course the way they pick a Netflix movie. There is no charge for the course and no charge for the online textbook that comes with it. The student can watch the lectures at any time of the day or night, repeating any part of it as often as needed. When the student feels ready, they can take the CLEP exam (a well-established, credit-bearing test from the College Board.)

The nonproft partnered with the State University of New York, the Texas State universities, Purdue, Penn State, Colorado State, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and other colleges and universities to create an “on-ramp to college.” Some 2,900 traditional universities accept CLEP credits, he writes.

The only charge is the $85 CLEP exam fee: Klinsky is paying for the first 10,000 exams and hopes to recruit enough donors to cover exam costs for all students.

Modern States also offers courses preparing students for AP exams in 12 subjects.

More than five million students are taking online college courses, writes Klinsky, but the costs as much as in-person classes and the quality is “often mediocre.” Elite universities offer free online courses, but with no college credit. He saw a need for “top-quality free courses that lead to real credits.”

Freshman Year for Free is one of several ventures offering free or “free-ish” college options, writes Goldie Blumenstyk in the Chronicle of Higher Education. “Efforts like the University of the People, the Global Freshman Academy at Arizona State University, and offerings at were all created in a similar vein.”

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