The Global Freshman Academy allows learners anywhere in the world to enroll in freshman-level Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) with no admission requirements. The Global Freshman Academy is a collection of 12 freshman-level courses that fulfill a specific set of general education requirements. The general studies focus areas include Mathematical Studies, Humanities, Arts and Design, Social-Behavioral Sciences and Natural Sciences.

The Global Freshman Academy draws its revolutionary momentum from organizations that have earned global recognition as innovative leaders in the higher education sphere. It represents a new, transformative credentialing model in the world of online learning and MOOCs, making it possible for students to register and pay for college credit upon completion of the course. The Global Freshman Academy differs from traditional MOOC offerings, as it fundamentally alters the incentive structure for students taking MOOCs, appealing to learners who do not already have a university degree.

Furthermore, the Global Freshman Academy offers a unique option for the freshman experience by creating opportunities for students to schedule courses around their lives. This reimagined structure eliminates many of the stresses associated with the typical freshman year experience. Learners will be able to explore and experience college-level courses firsthand, while minimizing emotional and financial risk. It is specifically designed to provide access to quality education for anyone, anywhere, including at-risk populations.



The objective of the GFA is to expand global access to high-quality tertiary education. It offers educational opportunities scalable for the demands of the 21st century. It provides access to the vast academic resources of a major research university, at scale, and without the financial risk for students who desire to successfully earn university-level credit applicable toward the completion of a college degree. In doing so, it helps to shift the higher education paradigm.

GFA was conceived by ASU and edX, non-profits that recognize the gaps in access to education, the constraints in current education models, and who value innovation and imagination in addressing worldwide problems. Specifically, they are both keen to address the lack of access to high-quality education for all. The Global Freshman Academy supports the institutions'™ shared vision and charters on a global scale.

The Global Freshman Academy gives learners anywhere in the world the opportunity to earn freshman-level university credit after successfully completing a series of digital immersion courses hosted on By allowing students to learn, explore, and complete courses before applying, or paying for credit, the GFA re-imagines the freshman year. It also reduces academic and monetary stress while opening a new path to a college degree for many students.

Welcoming students from all over the world, the Global Freshman Academy meets the needs of a variety of learners: incoming college freshmen who want to experience college-level courses or earn credits before they arrive on campus or commit to an on-line degree program, returning students who are looking to get back on their university degree path in a more flexible and cost-effective way, and educators who are looking to supplement their classroom curriculum with university material to best prepare their students.

The Global Freshman Academy eliminates barriers, meets the demands of today'™s learners, and creates an opportunity to revolutionize higher education.


ASU President Michael Crow and edX CEO Anant Agarwal shaped and led the effort to operationalize structures that support rapid innovation, addressing an urgent need for education in the world. Both ASU and edX value transformation through leading-edge technologies, accelerated teaching and learning and high-quality courses. By partnering to create a new model for higher education delivery, ASU and edX strengthened the mission that is so ingrained in the tapestry of both organizations.

Together, we leveraged the positive attitude of the ASU and edX teams to rapidly develop the partnership. An urgent desire to pursue the access mission permeates both organizations' cultures, ultimately driving our approach to identifying teams to manage the project's production. In creating courses as robust, rigorous, and engaging as traditional university-level on-line programs, selecting the Global Freshman Academy's faculty was essential. It was crucial that each faculty member share a passion for the project's vision and an enthusiasm for re-imagining their curriculum through the edX platform. Course completion can now be converted to academic credit - a truly transformational opportunity.

The faculty involved in Global Freshman Academy's development are renowned in their fields and have invested heavily in maximizing the platform's technology to create a world-class student experience. Frank Timmes, astrophysicist and professor for ASU's School Of Earth & Space Exploration and GFA's Introduction to Solar Systems Astronomy courses, is a prime example: "I find it very exciting to engage GFA students who seek to transform themselves through rigorous college credit courses, cutting-edge technologies and innovative pedagogy" Timmes explains.


The first Global Freshman Academy course, Introduction to Solar Systems Astronomy, will begin on August 20, with Western Civilization and Human Origins beginning in October. We have already seen significant project engagement. The Global Freshman Academy webpages (landing page, course pages, blog post and more) on have received close to 300,000 pageviews.

Currently, there are more than 20,000 enrolments across the Global Freshman Academy courses. Historically, we see the highest spike in enrolment in the few weeks leading up to the course start date and so we expect these enrolment numbers to continue to increase.

Further, the enrolment trends and demographics of the learners provide insight into who is engaging with this innovative learning opportunity. There are nearly 1,800 learners enrolled in more than one Global Freshman Academy course, revealing that learners are engaging with these courses as a sequence.

Of those currently enrolled, 31% have a high school diploma as their highest level of education. This significant percentage shows that learners are considering the Global Freshman Academy as a viable higher education model. Furthermore, 30% of learners are aged 25 to 34. This age group, the majority of those enrolled in Global Freshman Academy courses, may be returning learners, interested in pursuing a new education option to help them obtain a college degree, confirming the program is engaging with a key part of our community and mission.


Global Freshman Academy has garnered praise from experts in the higher education sphere and from media outlets worldwide.

"The monopoly that used to exist in terms of how higher education is done is over, and this is one of a number of welcome new approaches" Jamie P. Merisotis, Lumina Foundation President, told the New York Times. "It has big potential in giving students a jump start on completing their degree."

Brookings hailed the program as "another important step in the revolution that is engulfing higher education" and both "a boon to students and an existential threat to traditional state and private universities."

Most meaningfully, GFA has prompted enthusiasm from those central to its mission: learners around the world who are seeking pathways to achieve a quality education.

"I think it was meant to be that one of the pilot courses is an astronomy one - a subject I have always wanted to study, but is not really offered in my country. Really looking forward to the opportunity." Daniel, New Zealand

"Hoping to finish a degree and believe that this might jump start the process. The GFA program has encouraged me to go back to school and finish what I started a very long time ago. Thank you EdX and ASU!" Roxann, Georgia, AL

"I am not a trained teacher but I do work with young people very often. I am constantly looking for ways to bring joy to and excitement for the learning process for those I work with." Tricey, Ft. Lauderdale, FL

"I had an opportunity to live in USA for 7 years, and while I was there, I did not have a good chance to continue an education for several reasons. Now I believe I have chance to do so through this excellent on-line program." Alejandro, Mexico City

Next Steps

Our vision for the Global Freshman Academy is to create a comprehensive, accessible path for learners to achieve an entire year of freshman-level university credit. We will offer such courses as Introduction to Solar Systems Astronomy, Western Civilization: Ancient and Medieval Europe, Human Origins, Math, English, Health & Wellness, and Psychology. Once launched, each course will be offered five times per year.

We recognize the importance of helping students to identify the courses required to complete a well-rounded freshman year. To achieve this end, we have developed a course carousel to help students understand which classes will satisfy the core requirements and form a complete first year of college. The carousel selection of courses will continue to grow and will be accessible via the GFA orientation page, allowing students to easily create their schedules and enrol based on a solid understanding of how each course choice will meet their general education requirements.

Using what we learn from analysing student workflow patterns and experiences, we expect to expand our understanding of how students succeed and maintain motivation in these open, digitally enabled courses. We will use the data to determine indicators of success, along with difficulties or pain points in the student experience that may impede success or be a barrier to completion. Through a continuous improvement strategy involving learning analytics, we expect students to achieve strong learning outcomes and earn academic credit from ASU that is transferable, and in no way differentiated from ASU credit earned by other means.

Student success is our first priority. We have assembled a team to quickly and effectively respond to the questions and concerns of GFA students. ASU and edX Student Services Teams have collaborated with each other to enhance the student experience using email, discussion forums, and the GFA orientation page.

Other Information

PDF - Click to download
PDF - Click to download
Project Website - Rethink higher education. Online. Introducing Global Freshman Academy.
Other - Announcing Global Freshman Academy: Start your freshman year of university on edX.
Other - Promising Full College Credit, Arizona State University Offers Online Freshman Program
Other - Introduction to Solar Systems Astronomy
Other - Western Civilization: Ancient and Medieval Europe
Other - Human Origins
Other - Welcome to Global Freshman Academy
YouTube Video - Global Freshman Academy
Return to Awards