MasterClass Founder Launching Online College Credit Courses, Failures Get a Refund

I’m triggered back to nearly flunking Calculus in college.
Screenshot: Outlier.org

Raise your hand if Calculus 101 made you want to tear your hair out in college. If so, then you might be one of the people MasterClass Cofounder Aaron Rasmussen had in mind when creating his new startup Outlier.org. Starting this fall semester, the new venture will offer two classes—Calculus I and Introduction to Psychology—online for $400 per course and actual college credit.

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The main idea behind Outlier is to provide accessible college classes at a fraction of the cost. To do that, the startup is partnering with the University of Pittsburgh so that upon passing the class, you can transfer three credits to any school of choice. The $400 fee also covers the cost of textbooks, and Outlier says that any student who does not pass “with a grade sufficient to receive university credits” will receive a full refund. Outlier’s website also indicates that students will have the opportunity for small group work via video chats. The courses themselves have also been filmed in “dark mode” as Outlier says “many students use their laptops late at night, and don’t feel like staring into a lightbulb.” The only thing you need to apply is a high school degree or GED, and a computer with a webcam, microphone, and Google Chrome. (Calculus students will also need to take a pretest.)

Taking a page from MasterClass, the Outlier courses will be taught by actual experts. The Calculus course will be taught by three different instructors—Dr. Hannah Fry from University College London, John Urschel from MIT, and Dr. Tim Chartier from Davidson College. Students will have the option to switch between professors, depending on their learning style. Likewise, the Intro to Psychology class will be taught by twelve educators from New York University, Yale, and Columbia, among others.

In a TechCrunch interview, Rasmussen noted that 1 million students take Calculus 1 each year and pay an average cost of $2,500—with 40 percent failing after plunking all that time and money down. In that respect, what Outlier is doing is pretty cool. Theoretically, if your university crams every single freshman alive into Calculus I class, you could instead sign up with Outlier to get a smaller size, easier pace, multiple teacher options, and actual credits for less money. The same is true for students who might want to learn over the summer, or may not be able to attend classes in person due to life circumstances. (That said, Outlier does not yet accept financial aid, though it “hopes to in the future.”)

So far, Outlier is only offering two pilot classes, both of which start on September 9th. While the goal is to offer more over time, Rasmussen told TechCrunch that the startup is focusing on a range of basic level courses and reducing the first two years of student debt. 

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About the author

Victoria Song

Consumer tech reporter by day, danger noodle by night. No, I'm not the K-Pop star.