College for Free-99?

Catching up on e-mail...I come from a family of insatiable learners; my brother’s first email address was “eduatheart.” I can spend hours reading and learning now, but when I was in college? The pressure of papers and hours of reading made it difficult to appreciate what I had. I wish I had committed more to my long term memory; I wish I had taken more classes just for the love of the topic, not because it fit a slot in my course requirements. However, we have a world of libraries at our fingertips these days. Access to formal education may be limited by finances, but the Internet levels the playing field.

Have you heard of a MOOC? No, it has nothing to do with Miley Cyrus. MOOC is short for massive open online course, and it has the potential to change the college education game. Want to take “Flight Vehicle Aerodynamics” at MIT? Through edX you can take that class online, taught by a professor at MITx, for free. Through edX, founding schools Harvard and MIT, along with other schools that joined them, offer their courses, complete with assignments, tests and grades, to anyone who wants to learn. Currently edX offers 63 courses through 11 top universities.

As with most MOOCs, the courses are non-credit, but if you stick with it and pass the class, you will receive a certificate of mastery and become smarter in the process.

If edX doesn’t have what you’re interested in, there are plenty more schools out there with MOOCs such as Duke, Carnegie Mellon and Yale, to name a few. While edX delivers courses via its own platform, others like Duke use iTunes, or even YouTubeEDU. You can find listings and links to MOOCs at mooc-list.com, openculture.com, coursera.org, and udacity.com. I find Udacity to be easier to navigate than others but many courses are listed across sites. Want to learn without the time commitment? TED (technology, entertainment, design) Talks has curated OCW Scholar | MIT OpenCourseWarecountless “ideas worth spreading,” via short (usually about 20 minutes) talks by a collection of brilliant minds.

Have you had enough of Dr. Google’s version of med school? Why not learn from a real med school with Stanford University’s Mini Med School? Each quarter, video courses, each lasting about two hours, are available on the website. Some require reading to accompany the video. You can study things from how our memories work to vascular disorders of the central nervous system.

For more practical studies, you can hone your business and professional skills tuition free through alison.com. Check out their courses and diploma programs in business and enterprise skills, IT skills, accounting, law, and health literacy, among many others.

One knock on MOOCs is that only a small percentage of people who enroll in a course actually complete it. While it’s appealing to know that you don’t really have to do the work like you would if you were in class for credit, it can also make it too easy to slip away. If being accountable in a more structured program is better for you, you might want to check out University of the People. University of the People is a tuition-free online university (there are small processing fees), where you can earn a degree in business administration or computer science. The catch is the university is not yet accredited (although it is approved to award degrees by the State of California), so other schools may not recognize credits earned. It is affiliated with the United Nations GAID and NYU.

Sometimes there is no substitute for sitting in a classroom and interacting with classmates and your professor. If you are a retired Pennsylvania resident age 60 or older, East Stroudsburg University has a deal for you: The opportunity to take six credits each semester, tuition-free (books and fees are not free). That’s on my list of things to do when I retire. East Stroudsburg University’s The Older Adult Learning Center (TOALC), as part of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute also found at other campuses (osherfoundation.org), offers courses and activities at the center for a modest membership fee (570-422-3298).

We Are Penn StatePenn State University through the GO 60 Program also offers tuition free courses to retired seniors (again some fees and book costs apply). College life has a lot to offer for retired folks in the way of cultural events and lively activity, and some schools are going a step further to build assisted living communities on or near campus, such as the Village at Penn State. Some partnering schools offer free tuition as a benefit of living there as well as discounts to campus events. Northampton County Community College offers tuition waivers for Northampton County residents age 65 and older. Find out more at aseniorcitizenguideforcollege.com.

Willing to change jobs to get a college education? For those of us under 60 working at a school like ESU can pay off. Employees of ESU and their spouses and dependent children can take courses (within limits) tuition free. Fees are not waived. Penn State offers 75 percent “grant-in-aid” to employees, spouses and unmarried children. The University of Pennsylvania not only offers waivers for tuition and fees for employees for up to six courses per academic year, dependents can study at Penn with a 75 percent discount — or go somewhere else and have Penn pay for tuition there or 40 percent of the amount of Penn’s tuition, whichever is less. If you happen to work for a college that is a member of The Tuition Exchange, you or a family member may be eligible to apply for a competitive scholarship at another member school, with the average scholarship being $24,000. Several schools in the Lehigh Valley and Scranton areas are members. Schools may have employee status or service requirements before granting waivers, so don’t quit your day job without investigating the fine print.

For those not quite eligible for the senior tuition waiver and who don’t work for a university, there are still a few places to earn a full-fledged degree for free, some in exchange for work around campus such as College of the Ozarks and Berea College in Kentucky. Closer to home is Cooper Union and Macaulay Honors College (free for New York residents) both in New York City and Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.

I wonder if there’s a free course on information overload?

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