Ashford University is a for-profit academic organization owned by Bridgepoint Education, with a campus in Clinton Iowa and a large and profitable on-line degree operation. The university recently agreed, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, to accept certain ACE approved MOOCs from Coursera and Udacity, for transfer credit.

Ashford University depends for its tuition revenues largely on students with federally guaranteed student loans.

Relatively few of its students complete their degree programs. According to Wikipedia, “as for-profit colleges have come under increasing scrutiny, a U.S. Senate report in 2011 listed Ashford’s parent company, Bridgepoint, as having one of the highest withdrawal rates of any publicly traded school in the industry.”

Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa has said of Ashford  “I think this is a scam, an absolute scam.”

Nonetheless, Ashford is on to something! According to its website, “The mission of Ashford University is to provide accessible, affordable, innovative, high-quality learning opportunities and degree programs.” Let’s first focus on “affordable”. Ashford’s website states prominently that students can transfer in up to 90 credits. That is a generous transfer policy.

On the face of it, the policy implies that Ashford is willing to forego tuition revenues for these 90 credits. But consider that that leaves 30 or more credits in the degree pathway – credits for which Ashford can collect tuition revenues.

That is very likely 30 credits worth of tuition that the university would not, without its generous transfer policy, otherwise hope to collect.

Turning to “accessible,” more than 95% of Ashford’s students are enrolled in its anywhere/anytime on-line degree programs consisting of high margin, readily scalable on-line courses. Students will be paying tuition for courses  with low marginal costs per student. That generous transfer policy, with its embrace of MOOC certificates for credit, looks like a pretty good deal for the university.

And it might also be an attractive deal for many students. Ashford is aggressively defending its policy of accepting ACE-approved MOOC certificates for credit as a boon to students, and its defense makes a lot of sense.

“Requiring students to assume debt and repeat course content they have already mastered does not serve the individual student, the future employer, or the community,” said Lori Williams, Ashford University provost. “Our job as an educational institution is to maximize learning and facilitate development for each student. In turn, students are more likely to complete their programs, have greater independence from debt, and ultimately get into the workforce more quickly.”

Ashford and its students will hardly be the only ones to find this deal appealing. Remember those “total enrollment declines at nearly half of public and private universities.”

Why will those universities not follow in Ashford’s footsteps and offer generous transfer policies, including transfer of MOOCs?

Leonard Waks is Professor Emeritus of Educational Leadership, Temple University. This article originally appears on the blog MOOCville.


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