Technology

Outlier: Offering Online College Classes to Decrease Student Loan Debt

Founded by Aaron Rasmussen, co-founder of MasterClass, Outlier wants to make quality distance learning more accessible to the general public

19.08.2019 | by Reve Fisher
Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash
Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Student loan debt has risen to new heights. According to the US Federal Reserve, about 69 percent of the Class of 2018 took out student loans. In addition, about 20 percent of those with education debt—such as student loans, credit cards or a home equity line of credit—were behind on their payments in 2017.

Aaron Rasmussen, co-founder and creative director of Masterclass, wants to make online education more accessible.

While Masterclass is an online course portal taught by some of the world’s most acclaimed professionals—such as Martin Scorsese, Timbaland, Shonda Rhimes, Gordon Rasmey, Penn and Teller, Helen Mirren and Annie Leibovitz—his university-education counterpart Outlier aims to provide similarly affordable access to college courses.

However, unlike many online platforms that offer college classes, Outlier’s classes offer real university credit.

“We do want to make it clear that our goal is social impact,” Aaron told TechCrunch. “I believe in market solutions to problems. Coming up with a market solution to education, rather just relying on people’s charity, is far more durable.”

Outlier’s classes currently cost $400, which includes the cost of textbooks.

The company has partnered with the University of Pittsburgh, meaning that students who pass Outlier’s classes will receive transferable credits from the university. Outlier plans to film classes specifically for its online courses, instead of filming lectures and making PDFs of the homework and tests from an in-person course.

Students will be able to choose between different professors, which will include instructors from University College London, MIT and Davidson College.

As a small detail, Outlier’s courses are also available in “dark mode,” since many students “don’t feel like staring into a lightbulb” late at night.

The company also hopes to replicate the social aspect of a university-level classroom by breaking up classes into groups of four to five students.

“Our team has been working tirelessly to build a product that will make world-class education more equitable and more accessible, and change the way people define excellent education,” the company’s website explains.

Outlier currently offers two courses: Calculus I and Introduction to Psychology. Aaron explained that approximately 40 percent of the one million students in the US who take a Calculus I course fail—a loss of about one billion dollars a year “just on a single class.”

Conversely, not only do Outlier’s classes only cost $400, but the programme will offer refunds to students who don’t pass. As the courses will be overseen by officials at the University of Pittsburgh, the classes, midterms and final exams and projects will be kept to the rigorous standards of official college classes.

The company plans to eventually expand their course offerings to “the first 25 college-level courses,” instead of trying to replicate an entire degree programme.

“As far as the next couple years of college after that, there’s just a lot of benefit to going to a residential college for those upper-level courses,” Aaron explained. “We’re really focused on these first couple years, [where we can] hack down a bunch of the student debt.”

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