I’ve been following Coursera and EdX since they launched, and EdX so far seems like the more aggressive and innovative. Coursera is approaching online learning as a for-profit, and EdX as a not-for-profit. The latest example of EdX’s approach is the launch of Global Freshman Academy in partnership with Arizona State.

The problem with MOOCs and these platforms has been that you’re not typically completing accredited coursework. Coursera has been trying to rectify this through its Specializations concept, basically like taking classes for a minor where you complete a few specific courses, a capstone project, and are recognized with a certificate. But that certificate’s recognized value isn’t obvious.

EdX’s Global Freshman Academy, on the other hand, is partnering with Arizona State to try something different:

Arizona State University plans to offer a freshman year of college to anyone in the world with an internet connection – no application required.

Even better? You only pay if you pass. …

The program will offer 12 online courses and students will only owe tuition – $200 per credit – if they get a passing grade. Students will be able to complete courses on their own time, so everyone from people with day jobs to high school students looking to get an early start on their degrees could enroll.

Global Freshman Academy will mean that a student at Archbishop Wood, my high school alma mater, could take his freshman year’s worth of ~30 credits over the course of his junior and senior years of high school. And the cost for that first year of college would be about $1,000 less than his senior year high school tuition.

If this works and grows, it’s a major leap forward for more equitable access to education.