The Big Three

From Degree Forum Wiki


"The Big 3" refers to the three schools with generous credit transfer policies: Thomas Edison State University (former Thomas Edison State College), Excelsior University (formerly Excelsior College), and Charter Oak State College.

These schools are appreciated on DegreeForum for the minimal residency requirements (very few classes need to be taken at the schools themselves - most credit can be transferred form other sources), acceptance of alternative credit (such as ACE- or NCCRS-approved sources), 100% online-format, and comparatively cheap pricing for test-out students.

Note that the term "Big 3" is primarily used within the community of self-directed learners pursuing education via alternative means. This term is not widely known outside of this community.


Updated policies at both TESU and COSC have seen the introduction of credit transfer limitations. Both of these schools now limit students to 90 credits of ACE/NCCRS per degree. They still allow students to transfer in 24 of the remaining 30 credits but those 24 credits must come from a RA source.

COSC especially has restricted allowable ACE/NCCRS "alt-credit" to short lists of pre-approved providers and courses. TESU has moved somewhat to restrict allowable ACE/NCCRS credit, but much less aggressively than COSC. Some students now question whether the 'Big Three' even exists anymore.

Acceptable sources of credit include, but are not limited to, classes taken at another regionally-accredited college or university, CLEP exams, and TECEP exams.

Other candidates[edit]

  • Western Governors University (WGU) - This is a competency-based university that offers degrees in a few fields. Points in favor of their inclusion are the relatively low cost of a quickly-completed degree and the speed at which a degree may be completed. Arguments against their inclusion are that they allow relatively few transfer credits and they disallow international students.
  • University of Maine at Presque Isle (UMPI) - Another university that offers competency-based degrees in highly attractive areas. Points in favor of their inclusion are that they now allow near-unlimited transfer credits as long as 30 credits are completed with the university itself. A student who completes the entirety of's catalog will be approximately 2/3rds of the way towards a UMPI degree. Arguments against including UMPI in a "Big 3" or "Big 4" grouping are that the only inexpensive degrees they offer are competency-based and this is not a good option for some students.
  • Purdue University Global (PUG) - This school offers competency-based degrees such business administration, IT, and professional studies.  The  ExcelTrack is their flat-rate CBE program.  The professional studies which is similar to a liberal arts/computer studies degree has a flat monthly rate just for this program.  Purdue is known for being generous in granting credit for IT certifications.  Purdue courses aren't as fast as other CBE schools so it's highly recommended you transfer in the max 75% credit.