Many students do not attain a college degree because they run out of grant funds, such as Pell and TAP grants, before acquiring enough credits to graduate. A highly effective way to address this is to have students earn free college credits while still in high school—by passing a College Level Examination Program (CLEP) exam offered by the College Board.
We conceived of a way to broaden the appeal of CLEP exams among inner-city high school students through a strategic partnership with the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Modern States Education Alliance. Modern States’ “Freshman Year for Free,” offers tuition-free online courses and free textbooks that lead to real college credit at over 2,900 colleges and universities. Courses are available in over 30 subjects and are taught by professors from Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University, Rutgers, MIT, Purdue, and elsewhere. Modern States students have been passing CLEP exams at a rate of 73%, nearly ten percent above the national average.
Our strategic partnership enabled teachers at select high schools to identify students who could take one or more CLEP exams and provided supplemental guidance on exam content. At one of our sponsored high schools – MESA Charter High School – over 500 students have participated in various CLEP courses. The school has experienced the greatest success with Spanish: 96% of participating students passed the Spanish Language CLEP exam in 2021, 94% passed in 2022, and 95% passed in 2023. Further, 16% of the 2022 graduating cohort obtained at least 3 CLEP college credits and the top quartile of the class of 2023 seniors have graduated with 15 or more college credits. Modern States students have generally taken at least 3 to 4 courses each, earning 9 to 12 college credits in total. The program has helped hundreds of New York City students save on college tuition and move one step closer to earning a degree. We also funded the creation of a brochure and short video to raise awareness of Modern States’ “Freshman Year for Free” program.