August 16, 2019
The co-founder of the high-end skills class startup Masterclass has launched a new education company called Outlier.org. Despite .org the domain, it's a for-profit venture that aims to replace universities' introductory-level courses with highly-produced educational online content.
"I think that the first two years of college — so the first 25 courses — amount to about a $50 billion-a-year spend by students. In those first two years, the brand name really doesn't matter that much. They're very skills-based competencies that you're going for," the company's founder and CEO Aaron Rasmussen told Cheddar.
"There are a million students a year taking Calculus I at an average of $2,500 per course. That means Calculus I is a $2.5 billion a year industry, and 40 percent of those students fail. So we're wasting a billion dollars a year."
In addition to video lectures, Outlier promises interactive content, unlimited practice questions, and a full refund of the $400 per-class price if the students don't pass. Outlier says its course credits are granted by the University of Pittsburgh, making them transferable to other schools (that recognizes that university's credits).
Class can be taken at any time and from anywhere, but the company says that students will be matched to study groups based on their time zones. The courses will begin this fall with two classes: introductory psychology and introductory calculus.
Students also have the option to switch between lecturers and styles. For instance, calculus students will be able to watch lectures from the British mathematician Hannah Fry, Massachusetts Institute of Technology doctoral student John Urschel (also a retired Baltimore Ravens football player), and Professor Tim Chartier at Davidson College.
But why would the top schools help facilitate a startup that aims to eat up its bread-and-butter introductory courses?
"It's probably not going to affect the top 100 universities that much. In fact, not a ton of those students are even taking calculus because they will have taken it in high school. I'm worried about the other 3,500 universities," said Rasmussen.