Education: Colleges Without Walls

With four children and no college degree, Richard Cardinal saw little chance of escaping from the Ford assembly line where he had started working in 1955. "I had always wanted to study," says the burly ex-union official, now 35, "but money problems and the job didn't allow me to do it."

Until recently, Cardinal might have taken a few night school or correspondence courses, but never earned a degree. Last fall he discovered that he could earn that degree from Empire State College, part of the State University of New York, without ever setting...