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Online Venture, New Charter University, Offers All-You-Can-Eat Education for $199/Month

All you can eat neon buffet sign

New Charter University has a unique, all-you-can-eat style model.

(WCWT Blog)

 

University Now, an educational startup, has put a twist on buying an online education with the for-profit New Charter University, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports today.

Ready for it?

At New Charter University, your tuition costs are just $199 a month for a bachelors degree program. It’s like an Early Bird buffet special, but for classes: Study all you can in four months, for one low price!

As the Chronicle reports:

The for-profit’s new venture—New Charter University, led by Sal Monaco, a former Western Governors provost—sidesteps the loan system by setting tuition so cheap that most students shouldn’t need to borrow…

“This is not buying a house,” says Mr.[Gene] Wade, co-founder and chief executive of UniversityNow. “This is like, do I want to get cable?”

The new online college takes the lead from the nonprofit Western Governors University model valuing low-cost coursework and greater automation of instruction (The Utah-based nonprofit online school has grown at a rate of 30 percent per year over the past decade.)

But New Charter is much different in some important ways.

How Far Can $199 Go Online?

First, it runs as a for-profit, which might be a red flag to any potential student who reads the news or saw the Government Accountability Office study on for-profit colleges, and opted against the likes of University of Phoenix or Kaplan for credibility reasons.

And, while the school’s polished site puts a premium on user-friendliness, and comes complete with a quirky “see how accessible we are” marketing scheme (you can enroll via Facebook for heaven’s sake), is novelty and eye for  impulsive buyers enough to match the glut of enrollments still at WGU?

The Chronicle on NCU’s innovative try-then-buy policy:

Another novelty: New Charter offers a try-it-before-you-buy-it platform that mimics the “freemium” model of many consumer Web services. Anyone can create an account and start working through its self-paced online courses free of charge. Their progress gets recorded. If they decide to pay up and enroll, they get access to an adviser (who helps navigate the university) and course specialists (who can discuss the material).

I don’t think it’s enough. Serious students – the kind who follow-through with a four-year degree – won’t be lured in by the glitz.

Here are the top problems I see with New Charter University, University Now’s solution for the “crisis” in education (their words, not ours).

  1. New Charter University’s (National) DETC accreditation won’t satisfy some.  The Distance Education and Training Council is a national accreditation, and while the body has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Education since 1955, it is not what hiring managers mean when they ask “Was your school accredited?”[Read more: What is online college accreditation? ]The gold standard when it comes to academic courses of study is regional accreditation, and Western Governors University has it. New Charter does not.National accreditation is great, if your values are primarily 1) ease of acceptance into a program, and 2) affordability. It will nothelp you if you ever wish to transfer your credits into another college, or use a nationally accredited school’s undergraduate degree towards admission into a regionally accredited masters program.
  2. New Charter relies on time-spent, not competency, of graduates.  New Charter says it’s got an outcomes-based model of competency, and limits credit by examination to only 25 percent of the degree‘s credit requirements.

    Part of why students keep flocking to WGU is because the school is hip to what multitudes of adult degree-earners really want: the ability to test out of unnecessary courses.

    Washington Monthlynamed WGU “The College For-Profits Should Fear” last year primarily for this “big innovation”:

    “WGU’s answer to the status quo is to offer a degree that is based on competency rather than time. By gathering information from employers, industry experts, and academics, Western Governors formulates a detailed, institution- wide sense of what every graduate of a given degree program needs to know.

    It’s hard on the face of it, to see how New Charter’s going to capitalize on that very popular trait of WGU’s if they’re shackling students to desks like a brick-and-morter college. Though NCU might compare to WGU by offering cheap tuition thanks to automated, self-paced classes, online “advisers” for enrollment help, and “course specialists” for class questions, it’s hard to see how they’re helping to students who want credit for what they already know.

  3. Subscription-style enrollment calls “value” rhetoric into question.  Remember the first time you signed up for a mail-order CD club? Or ordered a Time-Life product from TV, and suddenly discovered things you never wanted showing up on your bill? New Charter’s setup doesn’t look much different.

    Despite the advertising claim that you can take as many courses as you want per semester, degree-seeking students can only take 3 classes, then take one at a time with advisor’s approval, after first completing those three. Non-degree students are limited to four courses per semester, period.

    It’s not as flexible as other online colleges, and this is a huge drawback for adult students.

    Time off between the four-month, year-round terms is limited to a 30-day break,  at which point you are automatically re-enrolled.

    Leaves of absence are granted for a period of up to 60 days, but must be due to extenuating circumstances. It’s not clear how students would take a semester off, except to forfeit their entire degree (I’ve placed a call to the university.) Military members can request special leave, but that doesn’t help if you’re a civilian who simply needs a few months between courses.
  4. Academic credibility is a concern for shrewd buyers.  New Charter University has some important-looking people on their website. Dr. Salvatore Monaco, the president,  was a former provost at Western Governors University and dean for University of Maryland University College.  The school’s provost, Dr. Karen Baldeschwieler, was previously a VP of Learning at Kaplan.

    But with open-source textbooks as the standard, and the site ‘Teacher Tube’ supplying lessons, it’s questionable whether the classes will offer a challenge, or provide a decent enough degree to help you land jobs.

    University Now’s #5 core value claims to be “Degrees Valued By Employers” but it is yet to be seen that this kind of program can hold up the promise of offering rigorous and respect-worthy educational standards.

    The company’s founder, education entrepreneur Gene Wade, believes his model is the answer. You can see a Ted Talk by him here on You Tube. I’m not so sure.What do you think?
     
    Written by:
     

About Jess Wisloski

Jess Wisloski is an established freelancer and has worked as a staff reporter at some of New York City's leading fast-turnaround publications including the New York Times, the Brooklyn Papers, and the New York Daily News.
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5 Responses to Online Venture, New Charter University, Offers All-You-Can-Eat Education for $199/Month

  1. kate says:

    As I am about to enroll into New Charter University MBA, does it mean that I am limited to only three courses per semester prolonging the program for two years based on 12 courses or can I take upto 6 courses per semester.

  2. Jess Wisloski says:

    Hi Tim,

    You make several points, and I wish to respond to each:
    1. The opportunity for anyone to try courses out is a great one, and we are happy to have students write about their experiences at New Charter or compare classes there to other online degree programs.
    2. While we mention that DETC is a national accrediting agency, in fact many students without knowledge on accreditation would be surprised to find that not all accreditation bodies are equal, and that’s the point we were trying to make. Your own FAQs point out that credits may not transfer to other institutions, and the possible repercussions of this for students wishing to advance or transfer.
    3. The information I posted about “testing out” procedures is based entirely on the information on your FAQ’s under ‘Will you give me credit for my work experience,’ which does not mention the credit by examination procedure, nor does it (or anywhere that I could find on your site) mention the 75% figure you cite here. My calls to University Now and New Chapter were not returned, but that is very good information for prospective students to have.
    4. The blog points out that there are indeed restrictions to how many courses they can take, and you do as well, even in this response. Point of fact: Your site claims ‘unlimited courses and materials’ not ‘as many courses as they can successfully complete.’ Clearly it’s not unlimited if they can take just 3, then need the satisfaction of their advisor or school to enroll in more.
    5. You are entitled to believe whatever you wish about your absence policy. Many other institutions allow students to suspend their studies and resume a program without reapplying. Also, traditional higher ed academic breaks, such as summers, are longer than 30 days. Adult students sometimes can’t stay enrolled in a constantly-renewing course of study, and this obligation is an uncommon one in higher ed. It’s also not particularly clear off-the-bat in your marketing that this is what you require of enrolled students.
    6. I did indeed notice the members of your board are esteemed educators, but alas, blog posts must end somewhere.

    The blog was an opinion of mine, not the company’s, and I am are happy to repost your points about the school’s academics and refund policies as we have here, for any potential students. Thanks for your feedback.

    • Hi Jess – We appreciate your willingness to post our comments. That was very fair of you.

      Here’s another link to the FAQs regarding transfer credits which may clear up the confusion about 75% transfer credit in… http://support.new.edu/entries/21187913-will-you-take-my-transfer-credits And please remember if a student has prior mastery of a subject they can proceed, as mentioned in my first post, to the final.

      Regarding the comment about take as many courses as a student can, the student does not need to satisfy the advisor to take another course. Please refer to this FAQ. They are contacting the Advisor to request which course they would like access to. Some students may want guidance on what is the best next course to take. We think that is a good service for the students, don’t you think? http://support.new.edu/entries/21180932-how-many-courses-can-i-take-in-a-term

      About reapplying, we are an open access University with no admissions administration fee. Reapplying at New Charter is filling out and agreeing to the then current enrollment agreement. I can see though that “reapplying” might sound more difficult then that. It’s probably worthwhile for us to improve that FAQ so thanks for the feedback.

      We would be glad to chat with you directly if you are still interested. As I don’t know your time zone, feel free to send me an email at the email connected to this post and a few times you are available next week and I’ll give you a call.

      Best
      Tim O’Connor

  3. Hi Jess – We thought your readers might value from some additional facts about New Charter.

    1) One of things great about New Charter is anyone can sign-up for free and try out our courses, and then make their own informed decision about the quality of the courses. And isn’t that the way it should be? Unfortunately in Higher Education we know of no other school offering this level of transparency. We’d love it if every school made their courses transparent in advance, like we are doing, so that prospective students could then make better, informed decisions about the school they decide to attend. We’d welcome a direct open comparison of our courses to other schools that cater to the millions of working adults who are trying to improve their lives by getting a degree. Don’t you find it strange and sad that other universities keep their courses behind a fire-wall and don’t allow the public to see in advance what it is they are buying? Wouldn’t that be great for students and prospective employers if they knew clearly what is it that the student mastered? We think that is a better way. And at New Charter what we are doing is transparent. We won’t be the school of choice for everyone. We do however think we’ll be a school of choice for thousands of students who are being underserved by the current higher education system.

    2) Your comment implying that national accredited credits cannot transfer to other schools is factually incorrect. Yes we are accredited by DETC and are proud of it. Did you know Western Governors is also nationally accredited by DETC and on its website mentions they will consider national accredited institutions for transfer credit? Additionally New Charter is a member of the Higher Education Transfer Alliance, a 500 member group of Colleges and Universities believing in the importance of student mobility and who affirm that their transfer policies are not made solely on the basis of the accreditation status of the sending institution.

    3) The blog implies students can only “test out” of 25% of the courses, which is factually incorrect. Associate and Bachelor students can transfer in up to 75% of their credits towards a degree. Transfer credit may be awarded through a combination of transfer and/or credit by examination, which includes CLEP, Excelsior and DANTES exams. In addition, students take a test at the beginning of each course. If their results demonstrate they have already mastered the material, they can then proceed to the pre-final stage and then final.

    4) Fully matriculated degree-seeking students can take as many courses as they can successfully complete in a term; your blog implies otherwise. We think it is in the student’s best interest to focus on a few courses at a time so they gain success with completing them prior to starting the next course, versus simultaneously working on 4 or more courses at the same time. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 40% of US College students are older then 25 years old. We have found this process of concentrating on mastering a few courses at a time works best for these working adults who are at the same time going back to school. This approach in no way though limits a student from taking as many courses as they can successfully complete in a term. The blog also mentions incorrectly that non-degree students are limited to four courses, per semester. Actually non-degree seeking students are limited to four courses before they must either become a degree-seeking student or discontinue enrollment at New Charter. This policy is very much in line with other 4-year colleges and universities. Once they move to degree-seeking then they can take as many courses as they can successfully complete in a term.

    5) We believe we actually have a very student friendly leave of absence policy, which is very much in line with other schools and students seeking a degree. Your comment implies that our school is treating the student different then typical state or private universities; that is factually incorrect. Many schools in fact that service non-traditional students have no break between terms. Our policy lets students decide how much time to take off between terms, enabling them to plan their lives. And should a student withdraw and need to take an extra ordinary amount of time off, when they wish to begin again, all they need to do is reapply.

    6) We were glad to see you mentioned Dr. Monaco and Dr. Baldeschwieler, who are leading our world-class education team. Did you also notice our Board of Trustees include three of the USA’s most respected leaders in the field of academics who have received international recognition for their innovative contributions to higher education? Therefore, we were surprised about your section header, academic credibility a concern for shrewd buyers. In addition, that section failed to mention our 60-day money back assurance; something we think would have given better balance to the section. We know of no other accredited college or university in the USA that offers this liberal of a refund policy. Therefore students can be confident in the quality of our programs as we are offering what we believe is the best refund policy in higher education, period.

    Thank you for the opportunity to clear up some of the facts in your blog. We look forward to reading additional blogs.

    Best

    Tim O’Connor
    VP Marketing
    UniversityNow, Inc.

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