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What if your first couple years of college were dirt cheap?

Student loan debt is a ticking time bomb, many are warning. In the U.S., it's reached $870 billion -- more than credit cards and auto loans.

In February, the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys referred to a "student loan 'debt bomb'" and wondered if it was shaping up to become "America's next mortgage-style economic crisis," according to this Chicago Tribune story.

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College grads are having a hard time finding a job in this economy, and paying back their student loans, which average in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Enter Baltimore startup StraighterLine. This company has been quietly chugging along the last few years building its online education product, getting users, and partnering with universities.

The product is simple: access to basic college courses for cheap. It's largely a subscription based model: pay $99 a month and a $39 per-course fee and you're taking classes that you can receive credit through a number of partnering universities.

The big news today is that StraighterLine suddenly has a bigger bank account to go after students who may be looking for options to cut the cost of at least part of their college career. The 11 person company just got a $10 million investment from venture capital firms, which it will use to attract more students.

One strategy for using StraighterLine is to knock out the cheaper, early pre-requisite or basic courses with the company, and if you want to enroll and live on campus in the final two years of your college career, go for it. But at least you saved some money in the first year or two of college.

In some ways, StraighterLine can dovetail with community colleges that act as feeders to larger four-year institutions.

Many experts say college education is the next big industry to face widespread disruption. We may see Baltimore's StraighterLine play a role in that possible shake-up in the future.

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