Straighter Line, a company that first generated interest for its potential to reduce the cost and inconvenience of college by offering online college courses cheaply, may move in a new direction: offering courses to prove job skills.

According a piece at PR Newswire:

StraighterLine… announced today that starting in the Fall of 2012, it will offer “MyLine,” a place where students may purchase, and gain access to, general education coursework and validated tests from leading educational organizations. The agreement calls for StraighterLine to offer a variety of core skills and information literacy tests from Educational Testing Service (ETS) and the Council for Aid to Education (CAE).

“Combined with StraighterLine’s courses, these products and services will offer students the opportunity to demonstrate their proficiency in key academic areas not easily measured by traditional coursework,” says Burck Smith, StraighterLine’s founder and CEO. “Student grades and test scores will be accessible through each student’s individual MyLine profile, which students may share with employers and colleges seeking qualified employees and students.”

This development is potentially interesting because college, or more particularly the two year associate degree indicating mastery of a certain specific area, has long been used in America as a basic indicator that someone has the necessary characteristics to succeed in a job.

But many critics have argued that this is wasteful; if someone can effectively prove through a widely accepted assessment that he can think critically and solve problems, precisely the sort of things that college classes are supposed to develop, he could potentially receive real academic credit (or indicate his capability for certain jobs) without having to pay for unnecessary classes.

Straighter Line is not an educational institution but it operates by providing courses that are accepted by accredited colleges.

In the fall of 2009 this magazine published an article by Kevin Carey arguing that:

StraighterLine threatens the most profitable piece of a conglomerate business: freshman lectures, higher education’s equivalent of the classified section. If enough students defect to companies like StraighterLine, the higher education industry faces the unbundling of the business model on which the current system is built. The consequences will be profound.

While the company subsequently suffered criticism over the fact that that it fails failed, in many cases, to adequately indicate real learning success, it’s still model that interests many education reformers.

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Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer