"There's no back row. You're fully engaged," says Chip Paucek, 2U's CEO and co-founder. The professor can answer questions live during class or through email, and exams will be "proctored" using a webcam.
Before signing up for a Semester Online course, students should check with their home university to ensure that the credits will be accepted. The price, at $4,200 per course – first come, first served – will discourage dabblers. Semester Online plans to add about 30 courses per year.
[Find out what it's really like to take an online course.]
3. Math labs: The study of math is being transformed at some universities by computer-based learning programs. Virginia Tech's Math Emporium welcomes 8,000 students a year to a cavernous computer center where they take self-directed courses online and can work on homework 24 hours a day.
Software randomly spits out problems in college algebra, calculus, linear algebra and geometry. Students can seek help when they need it from on-duty faculty or trained peer tutors. The computer software uses animation, online text, quizzes and supplementary lectures.
"We never leave a student until we're sure they can progress on their own," says Terri Bourdon, manager of Virginia Tech's lab, who adds that, while there is not clear data yet, "to the extent that there are trends, the movement is mostly in the direction of increasing student success over time."
This program concept has also been adopted by the University of Alabama's Mathematics Technology Learning Center, where about 10,000 students a year work on business calculus, finite math and college algebra.
At the University of Idaho's Polya Mathematics Center, 2,300 students a year use a variety of tools, including videos, animations and interactive electronic texts, to study and review math concepts before applying them to homework problems. Generally, students attend class once a week to hear Polya instructors introduce lessons and answer questions.
This story is excerpted from the U.S. News "Best Colleges 2014" guidebook, which features in-depth articles, rankings and data.