Color of Money: Making a dent in student debt

Michelle Singletary on

"There's nothing like being able to better yourself with somebody giving you something and not asking for anything in return," Felton said. "I appreciate that. I needed that."

If you're wondering how good the courses are, here's proof: During the pilot phase, in which 150 students went through various CLEP courses, 70 percent passed their exams, according to David Vise, executive director of Modern States and a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who worked at The Washington Post.

Home-schooled student William Rush, 17, is on track to graduate with a high school diploma and an associate's degree, in part because of the courses he's been taking through Modern States. The Vancouver, Washington, resident has used Modern States material to pass five CLEP exams, and he got vouchers for four of the test fees, his mother said.

"It means so much to us," Melissa Rush said. "In a way, it feels like they have partnered with us, to benefit William."

The program's freshman-level college courses are taught by professors from top-ranked schools such as Columbia, Johns Hopkins, Rutgers and George Washington University.

Concerned about the quality of the courses because they're not taught in a classroom? You shouldn't be, says Paul Schiff Berman, a former dean of the George Washington University Law School, who developed and teaches the "Introduction to Business Law" course. Berman oversaw more than 100 online degree and certificate programs at George Washington.

"If the choice is a 300-person lecture course in a giant lecture hall with a mediocre professor or a really well-taught interactive online course, I'm confident the online experience will be better educationally," Berman said.

Since CLEP credits are accepted at 2,900 universities worldwide, the Freshman Year for Free program is a viable way to cut costs, said Rebecca Lubot, an adjunct lecturer at Rutgers, who recently finished filming the American Government CLEP course. To see which colleges accept CLEP credits go to

"This program is a game-changer," Vise said.

If it will reduce the amount of debt students take on, I believe it is, too.


Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1301 K St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Her email address is Follow her on Twitter (@SingletaryM) or Facebook ( Comments and questions are welcome, but due to the volume of mail, personal responses may not be possible. Please also note comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group



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