December 18, 2020

Inaugural Fast Start students join Purdue in fall 2021

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - High school seniors William Herrell and identical twins Jenelle and Sydney Ward hail from rural Indiana communities, excited about starting the next chapter in their lives: college. Now, they have something else in common: The Wards and Herrell are the first Fast Start program students to gain admission into Purdue University.

Through Fast Start, the Wards and Herrell took five free online courses and corresponding College Level Examination Program (CLEP) exams — with the goal to become Boilermakers while saving themselves and their families thousands of dollars for a semester of tuition. And for completing Fast Start, the Ward sisters and Herrell will become the first Klinsky Scholars when they arrive on campus in fall 2021.

 “Nearly all Boilermaker students already have access to majors that allow them to complete a Purdue degree in less than four years, and more and more they are choosing to do so,” Purdue President Mitch Daniels said. “The faster, more affordable and most responsive to the increasingly diverse academic choices young people want, the better.”

Purdue Fast Start was launched in February through a partnership with, a philanthropy dedicated to making a college degree more affordable and accessible. A $1 million gift to Purdue from Steve and Maureen Sherry Klinsky is covering the cost of 10,000 CLEP exam fees for Indiana students. Maureen Sherry Klinsky is a trustee of Modern States, and Steve Klinsky is the organization’s CEO and founder.

The move also is a key component of Purdue’s land-grant mission and a continued commitment to affordability and accessibility, with a decade of frozen tuition and a priority that has led to nearly 60% of Purdue students now graduating debt-free.

The Ward sisters, seniors at Northwestern High School near Kokomo in rural Howard County, spent the past six months taking five classes each through Fast Start, mainly in the sciences. And they were somewhat surprised at how familiar they were with the subject matter.

Finances were a big motivator to complete Fast Start, as the sisters were hoping to become the third and fourth members of their family to attend Purdue.

herrell-wLO William Herrell of Macy, Indiana, will become an inaugural Klinsky Scholar after completing Purdue’s Fast Start program, which allows high school students from across the state to take courses for college credit at no charge while gaining assured admittance into Purdue. Herrell plans to pursue a degree in marketing when he starts at Purdue in fall 2021. (Purdue University photo/submitted)

“Putting the two of us through college at the same time wasn’t going to be easy, and the savings we’ll gain through Fast Start at Purdue will be a big help to our family,” said Jenelle, who will enter Purdue next fall as an exploratory studies major. 

Adds Sydney, who plans to study biology for a career in forensics analysis: “Our parents encouraged us to focus on our studies in high school and to work hard to get good grades. Combined with scholarships we’re pursuing, the savings for the free Purdue credits we’re getting through Fast Start will be a huge financial help.”

Herrell, a senior at North Miami High School who lives in the small Miami County town of Macy, first heard about Fast Start through his community 4-H Extension office. While in quarantine last spring after being exposed to the coronavirus, he registered for five courses in history and sociology. Focused on a Fast Start class each week, he completed all five in six weeks, passed the CLEP exams and gained credit hours to enter Purdue as either a second-semester freshman or even a sophomore with his AP classes.

“I view coming to Purdue through Fast Start as a way to say ‘thank you’ to my parents for raising me and supporting me all these years,” said Herrell, who will study marketing in the Krannert School of Management. “I’ve learned that college debt is important not to have, and Fast Start will be a way to potentially avoid that as I study at Purdue.”

Purdue is assuring admission to students who complete five Modern States courses, pass a minimum of five CLEP exams through Fast Start and meet the university’s standard admissions requirements.

Fast Start is available to all residents of Indiana but is especially beneficial to students in rural parts of the state, those enrolled in inner-city schools that aren’t able to offer the full menu of Advanced Placement courses, and those for whom a college education is less affordable. The Purdue program also guides the students through taking courses and tests, and navigating admittance to Purdue. The students also can access Purdue alumni and friends for mentoring if desired.

Passing five CLEP exams, the equivalent of an entire semester, can save students that time in school and nearly $11,000 in tuition and expenses. Pass 10 CLEPs, or a year of college courses, and the time and financial savings nearly doubles. In addition, Fast Start students can graduate and enter the workforce sooner than their peers.

“We’re excited about the opportunities Fast Start will create for Jenelle, Sydney and William next fall as our inaugural ‘Fast Starters’ and Klinsky Scholars, and for other high school students currently participating in the program,” said Jason Henderson, director of Purdue Extension and senior associate dean of the College of Agriculture.

National statistics show that less than 30% of rural residents age 25 and older have an associate degree or higher, compared with more than 43% of those living in larger cities. And research by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce shows that two-thirds of all jobs and 80% of all “good” jobs (those paying a median wage of $65,000) demand a postsecondary credential.



“Through this Modern States-Purdue partnership, Fast Start is making college more attainable and affordable for students throughout Indiana and becoming a model for many other universities nationwide,” said Steve Klinsky.

With 250,000 registered users, is the largest “free college for credit” program in the nation. Students can access the expansive Modern States library of online courses, taught by top college professors, at no cost. Modern States offers courses that prepare students for all 33 CLEP exams.

Administered by the College Board, CLEP exams can help students gain credit for up to 30 hours of general education courses, or a full year of college credit. Many students, however, have been blocked in the past by a lack of courses to learn the material and the $89 test fee per course.

About Purdue University

Purdue University is a top public research institution developing practical solutions to today’s toughest challenges. Ranked the No. 5 Most Innovative University in the United States by U.S. News & World Report, Purdue delivers world-changing research and out-of-this-world discovery. Committed to hands-on and online, real-world learning, Purdue offers a transformative education to all. Committed to affordability and accessibility, Purdue has frozen tuition and most fees at 2012-13 levels, enabling more students than ever to graduate debt-free. See how Purdue never stops in the persistent pursuit of the next giant leap at

About Modern States

The Modern States Education Alliance is a NYC-based philanthropy dedicated to making a college degree more affordable and accessible for everyone. Its first initiative is “Freshman Year for Free”: more than 30 online college courses available tuition-free for credit, from top university professors available to anyone with an Internet connection. Students can use these courses to earn college credits by preparing for and taking AP and CLEP exams, as offered by the College Board. Learn more at

Writer: Phillip Fiorini

Media contact, Purdue: Matthew Oates, 765-586-7496 (cell),, @mo_oates 

For Modern States:

Sources: Jason Henderson, 765-494-8489, 

Jenelle Ward

Sydney Ward

William Herrell, 

Note to journalists: Photos of the Wards and Herrell, and a Fast Start image are available on Google Drive.

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