The A.F.L.-C.I.O., the main umbrella group for the nation’s labor unions, announced on Thursday that it was joining with the National Labor College and the Princeton Review to create an online college for the federation’s 11.5 million members and their families.
The new college, tentatively named the College for Working Families, will seek to "expand job opportunities for its members by providing education and retraining in a way that’s affordable and accessible," the founders said.
The college will be the first and only accredited degree-granting online institution devoted exclusively to educating union members. It plans to begin offering courses this fall, including ones on criminal justice, education, business and allied health sciences.
"We’re working on a survey to send out to the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s members to find out what they’d be interested in,” said William Scheuerman, president of the National Labor College, a 41-year-old college for union members based in Silver Spring, Md.
Mr. Scheuerman said the online college would charge about $200 a credit, competitive with community colleges and far cheaper than most four-year colleges and for-profit schools.
He said the labor college selected the Princeton Review and its Penn Foster subsidiary as partners because of their expertise in distance learning.
In 1890, Penn Foster, based in Scranton, Pa., first provided mail correspondence safety courses to coal miners. Penn Foster now provides online courses to 220,000 students, and a large part of its operations are unionized.
Michael Perik, president of the Princeton Review, said the College for Working Families would emphasize remedial learning and retention far more than for-profit online colleges do.
“We enter this venture with the strong belief that not enough attention has been paid to student remediation and retention,” Mr. Perik said. “If you’re a 30-year-old worker who is going back to school, you might have to relearn a number of high-school-type programs. If you’re going to succeed in an allied health care job, you might need to relearn some of your middle-school mathematics to succeed.”
He said the A.F.L.-C.I.O. wanted to focus on student retention.
“If you have a two-year program and can keep students through the first six months, the difference in terms of their likelihood to succeed is exponential,” Mr. Perik said.
Mr. Scheuerman said workers whose labor unions were not in the A.F.L.-C.I.O., like members of the Teamsters and service employees’ unions, could also take courses in the new college. They would probably have to pay a premium above what A.F.L.-C.I.O. members pay, he said.
Mr. Scheuerman said the online college would first offer bachelor’s degrees and would ultimately offer associate’s and master’s degrees.