Advice | August 25, 2017 11:04 am

‘Freshman Year for Free’ Helps Students Reduce Their Debt

Through the program, students could cut their college tuition bills by as much as 25 percent.

Student loans. Those two words are enough to strike fear and anxiety in any young person’s heart.

Outstanding student debt has now grown to $1.4 trillion, and despite politicians’ promises to fix the growing loan crisis for years, a college degree is now out of reach for many people, unless they’re willing to go deep into debt.

But now Steve Klinsky, the founder and chief executive of the private equity firm New Mountain Capital, has invested his own money in a solution that will hopefully help lots of people get through college with less debt, writes the Washington Post

Klinsky founded Modern States Education Alliance, a New York City-based nonprofit that wants to make college more affordable for everyone through its “Freshmen Year for Free” program.

Anyone can participate in the program — high schoolers, military personnel or adult learners. There is no age, location or income limit, just an internet connection. Through “Freshmen Year for Free,” students have access to free online courses that prepare them to pass Advanced Placement (AP) exams and the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests, both of which are offered through the college board, writes the Post. 

If students score well on the subject-area exams, they can earn enough college credit to knock out their freshman year, which could save as much as 25 percent on tuition.

But what about the high price of textbooks and study material? It is all free through the program. Plus, the first 10,000 test takers get vouchers from Modern States to pay the exam fees. There is no limit to how many vouchers you get, but you have to go through the coursework to get one. The tests themselves are expensive — $92 for each AP exam and $85 per CLEP test. AP tests are only offered in May, but CLEP tests can be taken year-round.

“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,” wrote Klinsky in a piece for RealClearLife

Modern States partnered with, a nonprofit founded by Harvard University and MIT that also offers a platform of free classes.

Executive director of Modern States — and a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who worked at the Washington PostDavid Vise said that 70 percent of the 150 students who went through various CLEP courses passed during the pilot phase.

Though it may be worrisome to people that there are no classes, Paul Schiff Berman, a former dean of the George Washington University Law School says that he is confident the well-taught interactive online experience will be better educationally than a 300-person lecture course in a giant hall with a mediocre professor.

The courses are taught by professors from top-ranked schools such as Columbia, Johns Hopkins, Rutgers and George Washington University.

The program is already making a difference. Home-schooled student William Rush, 17, is on track to graduate with both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree, in part because of the courses he’s taking with Modern States, writes the Post. He has used Modern States material to pass five CLEP exams. He got vouchers for four of the test fees.

“It means so much to us,” Melissa Rush, William’s mother, said to the Post. “In a way, it feels like they have partnered with us, to benefit William.”