Monday, October 25, 2010

Is College Really a Good Investment?

In an earlier post, I discussed some of the nightmares I experienced at a public college in Memphis. If I'd had the money at the time, I would have applied to a private college there. Ideally, I would have attended Rhodes College, one of the more elite schools in Memphis which has beautiful Gothic architecture with stained glass windows. I recently looked at Rhodes' website, and although it still seems like a very good school, the costs make me wonder if I really regret not going.

The tuition is $34,000 a year, meaning that a four-year degree at this college costs $136,000. If I had gone to this college, I'd now be wondering what other things I could have done with the money. If it was invested with a 10% return, it would produce $13,600 per year, and as a frugal person, I could live well on that. $136,000 is also enough money to buy a house outright, and would therefore mean not having a rent or mortgage payment each month. Being the single biggest expense in most households, getting rid of this expense is a giant leap towards financial independence.

There's also the question of whether or not it makes sense to pay all that money for an education when the contents of it are available cheaper elsewhere. For the past few months, I've been maintaining a list of free online textbooks on this website, and I'm frequently amazed at how much stuff is out there. If I attended a brick-and-mortar college at this point, I'd feel foolish for spending money on something that I know I can get for free. Not to mention the fact that it's easier to get information online at my own convenience rather than having to go to classes at a set time.

Last but not least, there's always the never-ending supply of college horror stories. My latest find is The Five Year Party, a blog written by a former journalism professor at one of the "party colleges," who gave up after a twelve-year teaching career. His blog is filled with horror stories, and he's also written a book about his experiences. It's well worth a visit if you're considering a brick-and-mortar college.

All in all, I'm glad to be doing college homeschool-style. Although I was never in the position to apply to a private college, I'm beginning to think that it was a blessing in disguise. Amongst other things, I probably wouldn't be writing this blog, and I always enjoy seeing what cheaper alternatives there are to the traditional college experience.

StraighterLine Freshman Year Back To School 2010

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Free Online College

As a college education is normally a major investment, it's interesting to see that it's possible to get one for free. The University of the People offers free online courses to the Associate's and Bachelor's levels in Business Administration and Computer Science. As the education is free, many people will wonder what the catch is. The University of the People isn't yet accredited, and therefore, can't yet award degrees.

Still, this college might be worth considering for some. Although the college isn't accredited, it's courses do offer valuable knowledge. Amongst their computer courses are offerings in software engineering, programming, and operating systems. It might be an idea to use this knowledge to take IT certification exams, which would be widely recognized. Also, the value of this education depends on what you want to do afterwards. If you wanted to list it on a resume while applying for a traditional job, most employers would probably be wary. It would also be difficult to transfer to an accredited institution to earn a graduate degree. However, you might have more success if you listed it as a qualification to work as a freelancer. If you were using the knowledge in your own business, the lack of accreditation wouldn't be a problem.

Personally, I'm taking a serious look at this option, as the computer science courses do look good, and you can't beat getting it for free. I still don't know what this college's policies are on taking transfer credit, or in letting people enroll for individual courses rather than the entire program. I'm thinking that it might be possible to transfer the UoP course credit to one of the Big Three distance colleges, and get an accredited degree from them. At the same time, the Big Three might also not recognize college credit from an unaccredited college.