Alyxandria.

The official blog of alyxandria.org

I Can’t Afford a Bachelor’s Degree, So I’m Making My Own

Options for degrees are terrible

I fundamentally disagree with the popular belief that colleges and universities should essentially be nothing more than job training centers. Which is why I’m saying upfront, if my goal was solely to get a job that requires a bachelor’s degree when I graduate, then yes, it makes sense to attend one of the schools I can find a way to eventually pay for regardless of the school’s academic quality.

But that’s not my only goal. In my mind higher education should be almost exclusively about academics. I’m looking for an affordable degree program that is academically rigorous, and provides me the opportunity to challenge myself and not be restricted to the 10 or 12 classes available in a major. The two small public schools in commuting distance to me don’t provide the academic quality I expect in a program that costs $12,000/year in tuition, fees, and books (plus commuting costs). While the large public school in commuting distance, costs over $17,000/year (again not including commuting costs).

The higher education market hasn’t provided a student like myself access to a program that is both affordable and rigorous. In addition to the prohibitive cost of a degree, I can’t justify attending a school where adjunct professors aren’t getting paid a reasonable amount of money. It’s flat out wrong to be charged tuition for amenities and administrators that I don’t and/or can’t use, and provide no value to me, while the professors providing the value I’m paying for aren’t seeing much of my money.

A quality (assured) education

As the ability to learn in different environments becomes more accessible (e.g. taking an online course taught via live web-conferencing from a professor in a different country). The only thing missing is the quality assurance that comes with the accreditation of a bachelor’s degree from an already established institution. (even though some terrible schools and programs are accredited by the respected accrediting agencies… but that’s a different conversation.)

So, when I pay tuition and “fees”, I’m actually paying for the seal of approval that comes with that school’s accreditation, because there’s no other accredited game in town.

How This Is Going To Work

My situation isn’t unique. While I would love to start a university for students like myself, the accreditation system makes that nearly impossible. But I CAN start a new accrediting agency. So that’s what I’ve done. Alyxandria is a non-profit accrediting agency that provides peer reviewed accreditation for courses and degrees, and requires students to pay professors directly at a reasonable price set by the professor.

Alyxandria follows a simple model. Basically, a panel of experts in a field acting like a dissertation committee or an academic journal’s review committee, determine four things:

  • Whether or not learning outcomes, and the courses and competency exams that certify the fulfillment of those outcomes are of rigorous academic quality.
  • That the requirements in the degree framework [1] are being met. The requirements are taken from the Quality Assurance Agency degree framework for a bachelor’s degree with honours in the United Kingdom [2]. The spirit of the requirements matches the spirit of the requirements for similar degrees in most countries that utilize a degree framework.
  • That both comprehensive examinations and an undergraduate thesis have been passed. Prior to graduation, students must pass comprehensive examinations, and more importantly, submit an undergraduate thesis that allows a student to demonstrate they fully understand their field of study and are prepared for graduate level work.

All that being said…

It’s easy to criticize a degree, especially something new, for not being of a high enough quality. I’m the first person to read a title like the one to this post and be critical. I’d just like to note that given these requirements, specifically the comprehensive examinations and undergraduate thesis, most students who earn bachelor’s degrees at schools around the US, regardless of the school, wouldn’t qualify for an Alyxandria accredited bachelor’s degree.

No matter what happens I think this is a cool experiment, and will probably result in a good (and potentially embarrassing) story to tell one day. Luckily, the potential for a good story is one of my only requirements in deciding to do or not do something.

[1] http://www.alyxandria.org/requirements.html

[2] http://www.qaa.ac.uk/Publications/InformationAndGuidance/Documents/FHEQ08.pdf source on pages 18 and 19