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Varsity Tutors test-prep class

Image provided by Varsity Tutors shows Brian Galvin, who will teach the company's online ACT and SAT preparation classes, with a chat at the side of the screen for students to ask questions.

ST. LOUIS — Varsity Tutors, motivated by the college-admissions scandal, said Monday that it will offer free test-preparation classes for high school students.

The online classes are designed to prepare students for the ACT or SAT college-admissions exams. Each class includes 25 hours of live instruction by Brian Galvin, chief academic officer of the Clayton-based company, along with practice exams and a 650-page test-prep book.

St. Louis Public Schools will stream the classes live in classrooms and provide food and transportation for students who stay after school to attend. Missouri Gov. Mike Parson also is backing the initiative, and Varsity Chief Executive Chuck Cohn said he expects the governor’s office to publicize the classes to school districts throughout the state.

Varsity Tutors acquired Veritas Prep, a leading provider of test-prep classes and college admissions counseling, in January.

Cohn said Varsity employees had been talking about the need to expand access to higher education even before more than 50 people, including business executives and Hollywood actors, were charged in March in connection with a nationwide cheating scandal.

After the scandal broke, Cohn said, employees became even more adamant that the company should do something to help students who couldn’t afford its classes. Varsity had charged $779 for the test-prep class it is now offering for free.

“We’re a mission-driven company,” Cohn said. “We hire people who are passionate about education, so there was an internal groundswell that had been going on for awhile. The college admissions scandal ultimately brought that conversation to a head.”

Some students might sign up for additional Varsity Tutors instruction after taking the free course, but Cohn acknowledged that many who would have paid for the class will now attend for free.

“Even if this costs us revenue, we think it’s important,” he said. “We want to make very clear to the world and our employees that we care about improving access to higher education.”

The company would like to reach 1 million high school students with the free classes. Cohn said Varsity hopes state officials and school districts in all 50 states will help publicize the initiative.

Varsity Tutors is the nation’s largest provider of online tutoring. The company has raised more than $100 million in capital since it was founded in 2007.