By Dr. Laura Palmer Noone, CEO, University of the Potomac

At some point in elementary school, I learned the concept that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  (This seems simple enough, yet a concept that my daughter doesn’t grasp while shopping in the mall, but I digress.) I recently started thinking about how many people go to college these days – especially adults – and their path is anything but a straight line.

I get it – jobs, families, and life get in the way of completing an educational goal in one straight shot from high school through four years of college.  Many if not most adults end up going to several institutions, and invariably end up repeating courses because they were poorly advised or because the next institution would not accept the prior institution’s courses for credit.  As the parent of two teenagers, I am now looking at this issue through a different lens – if a student has taken and successfully completed English 101, is it really necessary to take it again at another institution just because it is using a different text?  Is it really appropriate to have students use federal financial aid dollars to repeat courses?

Mulling this over, we at University of the Potomacmade some decisions – if a course has been evaluated by the American Council on Education (ACE) and is credit worthy, we will accept it in transfer if it was completed with a grade of “C” or better – end of discussion.  After all, isn’t the goal to ensure that the competency has been achieved, as opposed to guaranteeing that the student earned that competency in a specific classroom (ours)?

So back to the shortest distance between two points, Potomac has long been a partner of Straighterline.  Straighterline is a company that offers many first year of college (lower division) courses at an extremely affordable rate. Their courses have been evaluated by the American Council on Education for college credit and the research shows that those students who successfully complete these courses have very high levels of success in subsequent college course work.  One of Straighterline’s programs allows a student to take up to 10 courses (30 academic credits) for only $999.  If you aren’t familiar with how college semester credits work, most baccalaureate degrees require 120 credits, or 30 credits for each of four years.  So a student who took advantage of the Straighterline program could take their entire first (freshman) year of college for $999 in college tuition.  I can’t think of another place that is that affordable.

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When I first heard of this program I was stunned that more higher educational institutions weren’t taking advantage of this as a benefit for their prospective students.  We are all concerned with mounting student debt and the general affordability of a college education.  If we could reduce the cost of a bachelor’s degree by nearly 25%, why wouldn’t we all participate?

The answer would usually be that an institution would be concerned that the courses weren’t of sufficiently high quality to justify replacing their own.  Yet we know from the external validation by ACE and from the assessment results from the students themselves that these courses are in fact excellent quality.  And a student that comes with that level of preparation in transfer to Potomac is going to be a better qualified student and more likely to be able to complete his or her degree.  That is the student that I want in our classrooms –one who has succeeded, and has a demonstrated knowledge of those general education courses necessary to be successful in college.

In order to further facilitate the student who may want to take their freshman year with Straighterline and then transfer, University of the Potomacis offering to reimburse (up to $999) any student who successfully completes their first 30 credits with Straighterline after they transfer and upon successful completion of their first semester, effectively allowing the student to have their freshman year’s tuition free.  Students must complete the semester with satisfactory academic progress and be in financial good standing but then a check comes directly to the student re-paying for the Straighterline courses.

So start thinking about a straight line between your life now and where you want it to be  – that line could get a bit straighter, with University of the Potomacand Straighterline!