Satyagraha

Cultural Psychology

How to Give Yourself a Superior College Education for Virtually Free

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Modern technology is rapidly making the brick-and-mortar university obsolete in its present form. Many college lectures are already available online for free.  There are also third-party courses, which are typically of superior quality,  and cost much less than physical college courses.

Please note that I’m not talking about expensive online degree programs.  I mean buying lectures or courses individually and teaching yourself.   If you have money to burn, or don’t mind borrowing $50,000, and have a desperate need for a piece of fake parchment with your name printed on it, then there are plenty of colleges and universities that will be happy to take your money, and in return will fill your head with 60’s era New Left baloney.  But if what you want is a solid education, the point of this article is to show that you get this on your own, and for a lot less money.

The leader in third-party college lectures is The Great Courses (TGC; formerly, The Teaching Company).  They already have an extensive catalog of nearly 400 classes on DVD, CD, or for download, with more on the way.

TGC lectures have many advantages:

  • At a regular university, only a few professors will be ‘superstars’.  But TGC recruits the top professors from around the world.  All lectures are given by intelligent, interesting, motivated, and skilled presenters.
  • The production values are high.  Lecturers are well-dressed and well prepared.  Talks are given in pleasant settings that enhance the learning experience.
  • You can watch or listen to them whenever you want; lectures can be paused or replayed.

The list price of TGC courses ranges from around $50 to $250 (much less than one pays at a university).  However, there’s no need to pay full price.  First, many libraries have TGC courses, and these can be watched for free. Second, most courses are available used at places like Ebay and Amazon.  Third, a group of students can get together and swap courses.  This means that one can typically get a used TGC course for $50 or less.

Example Curriculum

As proof of concept, let’s see if we can construct the equivalent of a four-year college education using existing TGC courses.  We’ll assume that the goal is to get a well-rounded, Liberal Arts education, with a balance among science, history, literature, social science, and fine arts.

We’ll divide the curriculum into four years, and a year into two semesters, with four courses per semester.

Year 1 (Semesters 1 & 2)

  1. A Brief History of the World
  2. Classics of American Literature
  3. Psychology of Human Behavior
  4. Biology: The Science of Life
  5. Art of Reading
  6. Joy of Mathematics
  7. Economics
  8. How to Listen to and Understand Great Music

Year 2 (Semesters 1 & 2)

  1. Understanding Calculus
  2. History of the United States,
  3. Introduction to the Study of Religion
  4. Introduction to Anatomy and Physiology
  5. Nutrition Made Clear
  6. Development of European Civilization
  7. America and the New Global Economy
  8. Nature of Earth: An Introduction to Geology

Year 3 (Semesters 1 & 2)

  1. World’s Greatest Paintings
  2. Cycles of American Political Thought
  3. Great Minds of the Eastern Intellectual Tradition
  4. Oceanography: Exploring Earth’s Final Wilderness
  5. Game Theory in Life, Business, and Beyond
  6. Shakespeare: Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies
  7. Discrete Mathematics
  8. Our Night Sky

Year 4 (Semesters 1 & 2)

  1. Masterpieces of Ancient Greek Literature
  2. Meaning from Data: Statistics Made Clear
  3. Argumentation: The Study of Effective Reasoning
  4. Understanding the Secrets of Human Perception
  5. Why Economies Rise or Fall
  6. The Cathedral
  7. War and World History
  8. Physics and Our Universe: How It All Works

Assuming an average cost of $50 per course, the total cost would be 8 x $50 = $400 per year, or $1600 in total.  As noted, if your local library has any course, or you can borrow one from a friend, it’s free.

Additional Educational Resources

TGC lectures usually come with detailed course guides, including outlines, bibliographies and study questions. To enhance learning, you can consult the suggested readings and even write out answers to the questions.  True, this might require more discipline than having a professor motivate you with grades. But if you really need someone else to ‘kick your butt’ for motivation, a life coach is much cheaper than university tuition!

The one thing that DVD courses lack is the sense of community one hopes to find at a college.   But you don’t have to pay tuition to join a college community.  Just rent a room in Berkeley, Austin, or Madison and join the intellectual culture; spend your days in self-study and evenings in recreation and conversation with intelligent people.  Attend lectures and films, and take advantage of the opportunities for civic activism.  Use the library.  You might even find that self-study is giving you an edge over your college-attending friends.

It’s true that DVD or online classes don’t result in a diploma or degree (yet).  But, honestly, are those things necessary?  Yes, some employers require them.  But the better companies place more value on the person.  Showing that you have the dedication and self-discipline to teach yourself might impress these employers more.

The Future

Universities cannot continue to charge huge tuitions and load students with debt.

Hopefully, public opinion will push them to change. One thing they could do is to expand advanced placement options, such that students may test out and gain automatic credit for courses and subjects they’ve already mastered.  In theory, someone could self-study, but have the university certify their competence.

Alternatively, we might see third-party companies fill the gap by administering, for a small fee, standardized tests or oral exams, and then issuing a certificate of completion or diploma.

Links:

 

Written by John Uebersax

February 1, 2012 at 7:23 pm

4 Responses

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  1. [...] Free, or nominally priced distance-learning courses are an alternative.  As proof of concept, a later post constructed a sample liberal arts curriculum using existing high-quality video courses, with an [...]

  2. [...] The Great Courses is a great idea.  They offer university-level courses on video or mp3 files.  The mp3 versions especially are a real bargain. I’ve previously listed what I consider to be some of their better courses here. [...]

  3. […] The study of Cicero is more relevant today than ever. To form any just appreciation of the man and his work, one needs to understand his times. As this topic is neglected in modern universities, a brief summary is supplied here. Those wishing to know more about Roman and Greek history might, in addition to reading, wish to consult some of the excellent ancient history courses offered by The Teaching Company (see my recommendations). […]


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