Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Lowering the cost of a college degree: Charter Oak expands exam-for-credit offerings

We recently made the following announcement:

Charter Oak State College has partnered with the non-profit Excelsior College to expand credit-by-examination options for Charter Oak students.  Through an agreement reached with Excelsior College, Charter Oak will offer registration for Excelsior College Examinations on its website CharterOak.edu.  Students who register for exams will take them at a secure Pearson VUE testing center (www.pearsonvue.com).   Students can review the new exam offerings and register online at www.CharterOak.edu/examreg.

What this means is that we are working to expand the available tests that our students can take for credit.  Testing for credit is the lowest-cost approach to building your transcript.  It is possible to meet every Charter Oak requirement—except the Cornerstone and the Capstone courses—through testing.  We have even had students who accomplished their entire bachelor’s degree this way.  The key point here is that a test costs on average $150, which is approximately $600 LESS than a course.

The process for taking a test is very simple.  For the Excelsior exams, you sign up and purchase their test preparation packet.  This set of materials contains exactly what you need to know to pass the test.  It also includes sample questions so you can prepare for the type of test you will be taking.  When you feel you are ready, you sign up for the test itself, schedule at a test center near you, and take the exam in a proctored setting (which just means you are supervised as you take the test). The other national credit-by-exam organizations have similar processes.

That’s it.  Just choose a subject, register, purchase the test preparations materials, study at your own pace, and then take the test.

Yes, I know that most of our adult students hate tests.  But we also know that most of you get A’s and B’s in all your courses.  In other words, you are all good test-takers.  So here’s my proposition: try one.  It’s a $150 investment.  If you hate it, then you never have to do another one.  But if you pass the test, think of all the money and time you can save by testing for credit.  I am not imagining that you will do your whole degree this way, but if you did even five tests, that would be a savings of $3,000.  And that is real money.

America is looking for a way to lower the cost of a college education, and Charter Oak is committed to providing the solution.  I am traveling to Washington, D.C. every month trying to get federal financial aid extended to include testing (and portfolios as well).  Together we can show America the way.

If you decide to pursue taking an exam for credit, I would be interested in hearing about your experience here, or feel free to email me at eklonoski@charteroak.edu.


  1. Credit by examination is a great resource, and I completely agree that adult students shouldn't be afraid to give it a try. Through CLEP tests, I earned 27 semester-hours of credit toward my BS from Charter Oak -- nearly the equivalent to a year's worth of full time study! My total cost for those exams was just a little more than $500. Working adults can't afford NOT to consider it!

  2. Credit by examination is one of the best values available in higher education, along with schools like Charter Oak. When I graduated from COSC in 1995, the internet was in its infancy; there were not many options for someone who could not attend classes. As a professional pilot, my job prohibited me from regular class attendance. CLEP exams gave me the flexibility to complete my degree at my own pace. In fact, I doubt I would ever have completed my degree without them. Naturally, it takes a good deal of self-motivation and discipline to prepare for these exams, but the effort is rewarded with credit towards one's degree, and savings that are dramatic.

  3. I specifically chose Charter Oak because of its credit-by-exam policies. I got a-whole-lotta-credits through the GRE Biology and GRE Chemistry exams. This took me a good deal of time to study, but it enabled me to embark on a tailor-made study program that also helped me to prepare for the MCAT -- a great deal of my study started with MCAT practice materials. I ended up scoring in the 93rd percentile on the GRE Biology and something like the 59th percentile on the GRE Chemistry. I also scored a 40 on the MCAT, which is better than 99.5 percent of test-takers, and is better than 90% of the students who get acceptance to the top schools (e.g. the top 10% at Harvard Medical School is a 41).

    Some people believe a 40 on the MCAT is guaranteed entrance to any med school, but I actually didn't get in anywhere when I applied last summer. This was partly because I had really, really bad grades from my first stab at college (two semesters over ten years ago), partly because I didn't have any new grades, partly because I didn't have any professor recommendations, and partly because I didn't yet have all the required coursework. I reasoned (correctly) that I could take all the prerequisites and complete a degree before fall of 2013, but this didn't seem to make a difference. I did make some questionable choices with my essays, believing that my unusual application merited some risk-taking, but in every respect not mentioned above I had a pretty good application. I had been working full-time as a nursing assistant while teaching myself biology, chemistry, and physics, and I came out with a stellar recommendation from my nurse manager along with some equally stellar test scores. I also had a past life as a screenwriter, complete with a work that's currently in development with a British production company. I felt that I had proven I had the discipline, tenacity, intelligence, and character required to make it through med school and become a great doctor, but the admissions committee didn't see it that way. I think a great part of my problem was that I did not fit into any of the paradigms for med school applicants, which meant there were no charts or statistics or crystal balls that they could use to predict my future. My data couldn’t be plugged in to any formulas.

    All this is for the better, because I came to decide I would rather go to Physician Assistant school instead. However, once again I ran into problems with respect to my testing out. I figured I could enroll at the local community college to meet my science lab requirements, but come-to-find-out…. I cannot take the labs separately. I still have to enroll in the lectures. This is okay too, because a lot of the PA schools won’t accept CLEP for their prerequisites and this saves me the trouble of having to request an exception.

    I still think that the test-out program is a great tool for students, and I still plan to use it to complete my last few credits at COSC, but I wish that I had planned the whole process out a little better. While I have saved a significant amount of money (despite having to pay for some courses I already had credits for), I don’t feel I saved a whole lot of time in the process.

    With all the open courseware and cheap used textbooks and internet videos and course notes available, there’s no reason someone should have to pay three-thousand dollars to learn Biology I and II. But I feel like there aren’t enough students like me out there, which means there aren’t graduate programs willing to buck the trend and accept our unusual educational approach. Credit-by-exam is a great option, but until things change students with post-baccalaureate aspirations would be well-advised to take their more important coursework in class and leave the CLEP to just fill core requirements and electives. Many schools aside from Charter Oak (and Excelsior, and TESC) already allow students to do just that.

    1. I know it's been a while since this was posted but it's a great motivator for me. I too plan to go to medical school but need to test out to get through my bachelor's degree. However, I intend to enroll in a post-bacc pre-med program here at a 4 year school. The advantage to that will be ...it's covered by financial aid so it'll be worth it if it helps me get into med school. Thank you for telling your story! Goodluck with your studies and getting into PA school :)

  4. Another thought to throw out there: it can be very difficult to find appropriate materials to prepare for an exam and it takes a certain savvy to find material that will teach the fundamentals you need for the exam. You can find plenty of textbooks, but most of them (particularly biology textbooks) suffer from a serious case of TMI, with a 6:1 ratio of information-you-don’t-need to information-that-might-show-up-on-the-exam. There simply isn’t a very big industry for self-teaching material, again probably because there aren’t enough people interested.

    I’m sure if you were to visit any college and poll students that many of them would say that they’re interested in credit-by-exam. I found the same phenomenon as a screenwriter: many people said they would like (or even intend) to write screenplays. However, when it comes to actually forcing your rear into a chair and plugging away at it, day after day, all alone, with no external structure or rules, the pool of people actually willing to write a feature screenplay or study for a credit-by-exam gets much, much smaller. I have a feeling that if Congress gave students aid to study for an exam (rather than aid to just pay for exam fee itself) a lot of that money would get wasted by students who lack the discipline and know-how to follow through on their own.

    My 2 cents.