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Attending College for Free: How Beneficial is it, Really?

by Cathryn Sloane | University of Iowa

F Posted in: College P Posted on: November 23, 2011
iTunes U

Imagine waking up whenever you please, staying in your comfortable sweats at home, and learning everything your classes have to teach you just by turning on your computer – all for no price.  This is what many typical college students wish they could do every day, rather than tiredly lugging around campus only to sit in uncomfortable desks and listen to professors lecture for at least 50 minutes at a time.  It is therefore no surprise that over 6 million students are taking at least one online course, according to the 2011 study, Going the Distance: Online Education in the United States. The idea of going to college online for free is rapidly becoming more and more popular every year; many studies are indicating the concept will become mainstream relatively soon.

Especially with the endless woes of today’s economy, people are constantly finding themselves looking for the cheaper option in absolutely everything.  So why pay for something when you can get it for free?  Now that college classes are beginning to fall under that category, many students and their families feel this is the path they need to take in order to avoid financial debt.  Hundreds of respected universities across the country are participating in making the online learning phenomenon possible, including Stanford University, UC Berkeley, NYU, and Yale.

One of the most popular ways students are getting their classes online is through iTunes U, a section of the beloved application that offers lectures through videos, podcasts, slideshows, PDF’s, and more.  Over 800 universities have established iTunes U sites where professors can post all information needed to get through their various curriculums.  OnlineCollegeClasses.com is another resource students are taking advantage of, where you can easily navigate through the endless lists of specific subjects you may be interested in learning about until you finally land on the course you want to take.  Interestingly enough, many of these link to the course offered on iTunes U, or if not that, YouTube videos of lectures that the professor has uploaded to the university’s channel.  Much of the content found by searching courses on OnlineCollegeClasses.com can be directly downloaded as well.

Although students are consciously becoming more aware of this “free college” notion, learning for free outside of the classroom is something we have naturally been doing every day of our lives.  Especially with the sole existence of the internet, learning on our own has never been easier.  But although this form of learning may save money on tuition, it is likely to save you from earning a degree as well, which is certainly not ideal for a resumé.  Almost none of the cyber-learning programs offer a college degree to earn once you complete your courses; the ones that do, in fact, require tuition.

There is one online university that is the exception, however.  Founded in 2009, University of the People is a tuition-free online university that offers four undergraduate degrees – Associate and Bachelor degrees in Computer Science and Associate and Bachelor degrees in Business Administration.  It is not yet an accredited institution, although the UoPeople administration is working toward changing that.  However, experts say a degree from an unaccredited university is not likely to impress potential employers.  So even though attending college online may save students from financial debt, it does not appear to make the post-grad job search any easier.

If getting a true education is all you are concerned with, then this wide world of technology provides a golden opportunity.  But students who want to be on the stable career path most post-grads hope to follow may have to keep searching for a solution.  Ultimately, it seems that money, education, and a substantial degree come hand-in-hand.

Cathryn Sloane Cathryn Sloane Cathryn Sloane is a '12 graduate from The University of Iowa with a B.A. in English and a concentration in Creative Nonfiction Writing. She hails from St. Louis, Missouri and has also written for USA TODAY College.

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