Meet the startup that is trying to save you from investing thousands of dollars in student debt

College is getting more and more expensive – the cost of a four-year degree rose 25% in the decade that ended in 2019, according to the College Board. With the coronavirus pandemic outbreak earlier this spring, campus closings across the country have made the value equation even more difficult.

Is it really worth it to spend an average of $ 21,000 a year on tuition in public universities or nearly $ 50,000 on a private school?

A startup called Outlier says it wants to help students get the credits they need to get a bachelor’s degree, but without the price tags that lead to student debt that can be worn for decades.

That earned Outlier a spot on the Times’ 100 Best Inventions of 2020 list.

Outlier offers online college courses for $ 400, including digital textbooks, compared to the average of $ 594 per credit hour, Student Loan Hero says you would otherwise have to pay. Courses currently include entry-level calculus, astronomy, psychology, and statistics, and are taught by professors from schools such as Yale University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Duke University.

If you pass, credits will be awarded by the University of Pittsburgh. They are then transferable to other universities that accept University of Pittsburgh credits. If you fail, you will be given a refund.

The goal? Make college more affordable, says Outlier, while lowering student debt.

Outlier’s founder, Aaron Rasmussen, previously co-founded MasterClass, a platform where people can take courses from experts from around the world to learn new skills – such as photography with Annie Leibovitz or cooking with Gordon Ramsay.

Rasmussen grew up in rural Oregon and attended Boston University, using transferred credits from a community college to lower tuition costs, according to a company spokesman. After co-founding MasterClass, he took time out to travel, the company says, and later decided to start Outlier because he was surprised at how many people could afford quality education, just like him.

Founded in 2018, Outlier raised $ 16 million in venture capital funding, according to TechCrunch.

The startup held its first courses in the fall semester of 2019, and while it doesn’t disclose student numbers, it says enrollments rose almost seven-fold in the summer semester. His students “achieved a C grade or better than in comparable courses in traditional classrooms,” it says.

Outlier has seen some pushbacks, however. In June, Melinda Ciccocioppo, a psychology professor at the University of Pittsburgh, wrote an opinion piece in the campus newspaper claiming that Outlier offered “below average” courses. She argued that “what the Outlier course lacks is a human connection” – you cannot email questions directly to your professor as the lectures are recorded and not taught by a single instructor. Within the psychology department at least, Ciccocioppo claimed that there was no Pitt faculty oversight, nor was the course planned by any of the staff.

“We worked closely with Pitt to ensure that course material was up to the department’s standards,” says a company spokesman, “and all of our courses have been thoroughly reviewed and approved by department heads.” Outlier and the university recently signed a new five-year deal, she added.

Outlier just announced a new Frontline Workers Scholarship in partnership with Pitt. It also promises to offer free classes to 1,000 key employees, which equates to $ 3.8 million in credit.

While there are certainly a few kinks that need ironing out, Outlier shows promise. If anything, it is emerging as a worthwhile competitor for a traditional college education, especially in today’s virtual learning environment.