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December 21, 2012
People set prices for their goods and services in ads and on the Internet every day. Now a Baltimore-based provider of online, entry-level college courses is joining the fray. This month, Straighter Line, which offers more than 60 college courses online, began letting its professors market their classes and set their own fees. WYPR’s Gwendolyn Glenn has more.
Glenn: Located in a spacious remodeled warehouse near the Raven’s stadium, Straighter Line offers Freshman- and Sophomore-level, online courses. The classes are approved by the American Council on Education and accepted at numerous partner colleges nationwide. Straighter Line’s CEO Burck Smith says all of their professors are being allowed to set prices for their courses.
Burck Smith: Our current pricing structure is at $99 per month, like a subscription, and then it is $49 per course started, a one-time fee. So any professor can say my course is worth an extra $200, so it would be $99 a month and then a one-time $249 fee for that particular course. Glenn: At that rate, a professor with 50 students could rake in $10 thousand dollars. That’s much higher than what most adjunct college professors are paid. Again, Burck Smith.
Smith: About 70 percent of all professors are adjuncts. The average pay for an adjunct is about $28 hundred per course. If you divide that over 30 students, that’s less than $100 per student, per course.
Glenn: Smith says their professors will be able to market their classes and receive a $25 monthly finder’s fee for any students they bring in. Dan Gryboski of Denver, will teach Algebra and business statistics next semester for Straighter Line. He’s promoting his courses on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Dan Gryboski: Hi, My name is Dan Gryboski. In the college Algebra course, I’ll have tutorials to help you with specific homework problems and online office hours
Glenn: Gryboski is a stay-at-home dad with nine years of teaching experience on the high school and community college levels. For his 15-week live and taped classes, he’s charging $50 above Straighter Line’s fees.
Gryboski: It was tough to pick a good price. My first reaction was wondering how do I know what is the right fee because I’ve always been teaching and not on the business side of it trying to determine what’s the right price point.
Glenn: Education experts are watching the Straighter Line model, a first for the for-credit, online college course industry. Amy Laitinen is deputy director for higher education at the New America Foundation, a public policy think tank. She believes Straighter Line’s new price model could develop into a trend.
Amy Laitinen: If it works the way I imagine it will work, you really will start to see the highest quality of professors, the professors who are best able to meet the needs of students and help students learn the material will gain an increasing audience of students who want to take their courses and they might be able to charge a bit more.
Glenn: Laitinen also points out that some of the best professors may be teaching at small town colleges. She believes the model could pave the way for students to take classes from such little-known but top-notch professors.
Laitinen: It’s a really low risk way for professors to enter this market if they want to test it out and offer a low price at first. And if students like what they see, they can charge more.
Glenn: Straighter Line’s Smith says although the fees charged may vary widely, the caliber of the professors will not.
Smith: They’re from a wide variety of schools. We are bringing in the kinds of professors who are going to work directly with students, hands on. Students will leave reviews and professors can use those to set prices.
Glenn: Smith predicts their model will spread to other online college course providers. He thinks a healthy competitive environment will be the result in which adjunct professors receive better wages and students broader instructor choices. I’m Gwendolyn Glenn reporting in Baltimore for 88 1, WYPR.
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