Correspondence course - American EducationThe independent study of a specific topic, subject or vocation by mail, outside a formal school setting, with all course materials—texts, lectures and so on—sent to the student by mail, and all student submissions—essays and examinations and so on—returned to the instructor by mail. Although rendered obsolete by electronically transmitted distance learning programs, correspondence courses were available from both private and proprietary correspondence schools and accredited colleges and universities. Many correspondence courses offered high school and college credits and were as valid as oncampus courses as credentials in the workplace or admission to graduate school. The quality and value of correspondence courses varied according to the specific course and the school that offered it. Correspondence courses were of particular value to students living in isolated areas far from any school with the particular courses they needed. Such courses were also of value to students whose jobs did not permit attending classes during conventional school hours.
Correspondence courses in the United States originated with the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle, organized in 1878 as a “school at home, a school after school, a ‘college’ for one’s own house.” The circle’s Chautauqua Press provided the necessary books and study materials to hundreds of thousands of subscribers, and the circle awarded “diplomas” to its tens of thousands of graduates. William Rainey Harper, who directed a summer program at Chautauqua and would later become president of the University of Chicago, developed a special college- level correspondence course for those seeking bachelor’s degrees.