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It is becoming increasingly well understood that students' abilities to take advantage of their education is based in large part on how well prepared they are for the school that they attend. MIT seeks to offer world class education to a diverse population of talented individuals regardless of background. Because of this diversity (and the diversity inherent in the US educational system anyway), students are frequently insufficiently and/or unequally prepared for university. High school and pre-freshman summer programs are currently offered to help level the playing field a bit but these programs are extremely expensive and have very limited enrollment. In addition, many students are unaware of their deficiencies before arriving on campus and are poorly prepared for course work that pushes them to their limits for what may be the first time in their lives.
Online education offers a low cost and highly scalable option for bridging the preparedness gap, ensuring that all incoming students have the required prerequisites (as determined by MIT and not by either a standardized testing agency or by highly variable local educational institutions), and allowing all students to get a sense of what to expect (in terms of difficulty and workload) of an MIT course before arriving on campus. It would give students who are willing and able to put in the extra work an opportunity to catch up before the financial and professional cost of failure in a course becomes significant. It would also give students who are not well suited for an MIT education a chance to discover that before the cost (in terms of time, money, and emotion) of changing schools or spending an unhappy 4 years in school has to be paid.