The new math courses cost the university about $82 per student—about two thirds of the cost of a traditional lecture class. But the pupils score higher on standardized end-of-course tests because they've had so much practice and individual attention, Olin says.
About 150 other schools, including the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Arizona State, and the State University of New York system, are experimenting with similar redesigns of courses for everything from chemistry to Spanish, often with similar results. Cheaper, better classes are the only long-term solution to the growing demand for education and shrinking funding, says Carol Twigg, founder of the National Center for Academic Transformation.
The economy will some day rebound, of course. But those colleges that are just cutting courses or having instructors lecture in front of ever bigger classes will simply offer lower quality. They won't have solved the structural problems that have led to high costs and low graduation rates. "Thinking differently," Twigg says, "is the only solution."
Emily Brandon contributed to this report.