Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Saylor Academy and the $5,000 Fully Accredited Bachelor's Degree

Back in the dawn days of MOOCs (ie 2012) there was much talk of the impact these disruptive innovations would have on the traditional academic world. Four years later and there was little sign of this coming to fruition. . . until 12 January. On that date Saylor Academy announced a new partnership which signalled a radical rethink in the costs of acquiring a fully accredited Bachelor's degree. For just $5,000 it is now possible to gain a Bachelor's degree issued by a recognised US university. Wow!

The programme is a rather complicated patchwork of input from three different organisations: Saylor Academy, who provide half the course content overall, Qualifi, a UK-based award issuing body who will accredit the Saylor courses (and provide their own courses in the third year), and City Vision University who present courses in the second and final years and award the actual degree. Given the difficulties in getting courses recognised and the added complication of credit transfer between bodies in different countries it took bold vision on the part of all three partners to put together this package.

Let's look a bit more closely at the details. Firstly, it should be said that there is only one major on offer--Business--although there are two optional tracks, Business Enterprise (Entrepreneurship) or Business Management in the third year. Next, this is planned as a four year programme of study but there is considerable flexibility to extend or reduce the timescales. Finally, payment is modular; you only pay for the courses as you take them and there are no registration fees. This means that the first year costs only a few hundred dollars. This gives a low risk entry point for those who have been out of education for a while and want to test the waters but could provide valuable evidence of commitment to potential sponsors.

The programme relies heavily on Saylor Academy courses. Ten are to be taken in the first year, five in the second and a further five in the fourth year. These courses themselves are entirely free and all required (electronic) texts are supplied free of charge. There is a fee for the remote proctoring (invigilation, in UK terms) of the exam for each course. This service is provided by an independent organisation and currently costs $25 per exam (but this may well increase a little--which is why the official figures seem to be a little higher).

Qualifi endorse the Saylor courses and rolls them into recognised UK qualifications (which means the student also collects a Level 4 Certificate and Level 5 Diploma along the way). The fee for this and the production of a transcript is $100. They also run the third year of the degree programme comprising six instructor led courses in one of two tracks: Business Enterprise or Business Management. This costs $800 for accreditation and course support.

City Vision University pop up in the second year where they provide five instructor led courses (which, incidentally, also completes the required programme for an Associates Degree if that is as far as you want to go) costing a total of $1,300 for tuition. They reappear in the final year with another five senior-level courses costing $2,000 and, of course, also issue the Bachelor's Degree to successful students.

Now that all seems a bit complicated so I'll offer two summaries. Firstly the course schedule:

  • Year 1 
    • 10 x Saylor courses
  • Year 2
    • 5 x Saylor courses
    • 5 x City Vision courses
  • Year 3
    • 6 x Qualifi courses
  • Year 4
    • 5 x Saylor courses
    • 5 x City Vision courses

And the costs:

Associate’s Degree Cost
$600 Saylor Proctoring Fees
$100 Qualifi Credit Endorsement and Transcript Fee
$1,300 City Vision Tuition: 5 Associate’s Degree Courses
$2,000 Total Two Year Cost of Associate’s Degree

Bachelor’s Degree Cost
$2,000 Cost of Associate’s Degree
$800 Qualifi tuition & accreditation + Athena support for Year 3
$200 Saylor Proctoring Fees in Year 4
$2,000 City Vision Tuition for 5 Courses in Year 4
$5,000 Total Four Year Cost of Bachelor’s Degree

Saylor courses are self-paced and can be taken at any time. Qualifi offer multiple presentations per year and City Vision's 8 week courses run five times per year. So, in principle, students could take longer than the schedule suggests or work faster and complete in a shorter time. However, remember this is effectively a full-time study load. Saylor courses, for example, have guidance times of 110-120 study hours which makes for 25-30 hours per week in the first year.

I was amazed when I saw this programme first announced. The total cost is around a third of the tuition fees for a single year at a conventional university here in the UK! Nothing I have heard since from Saylor or City Vision (both of whom were kind enough to answer some of my questions) has changed my view that this is really an astounding opportunity. Entry is open, there are no prerequisites or admissions selection processes, it is available worldwide* (at least to anyone with internet access), costs are modular and the first year costs are less than the price of a coffee and muffin per week (at least here in the UK), City Vision have also confirmed that they do not plan to have any cap on registration numbers. In total students can gain UK Level 4 and 5 Diplomas, a US Associates Degree and a Bachelor's degree--and all from the comfort of their own home.

I admit that I am sorely tempted if only for the novelty value of having a US-awarded degree on my CV!

* I am guessing that US sanctions may exclude students from one or two countries but I've not yet had that confirmed. I'll update this if I receive any more information.

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