Wednesday, July 7, 2010

MIT's free classes now run on free software

Free is a claim that we've long been trained to be skeptical of, but the game here is starting to change.

In the world of information technology, it isn't that unreasonable to assume that the copy of a piece of data is pretty close to zero. Once it has been created the first time, duplicating it actually costs nothing (despite what the RIAA may claim about imaginary lost sales).

With this in mind, quite a few colleges have started to make their classes available online - for no cost to the student. Now, you can't get a degree this way (maybe someday), but you can learn a whole bunch of stuff that you can apply to your own classes or even just for self enrichment.

To take it another step further, MIT is now offering its free online classes from a free content management system (CMS). Anyone can download this CMS to build their own website, and if there's something about it they wish was different they're also free to make any modifications or addons they see fit. Chances are, the Plone CMS is even going to be run on a Linux server (a free and open operating system).

With the economy in doubt, the trend toward free information is at least one set of circumstances we can be enthusiastic about. Hopefully, more schools and more software platforms catch on, and maybe we won't be choosing between advancing our information & education potential or making the mortgage!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Make it a FAFSA weekend

February is almost over, and that means time is running out to get your federal financial aid applications completed and turned in. If you haven't filed a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), then this weekend is a great time to get started and finish it up.

Of course, if you haven't finished filing your taxes for the 2010 deadline yet, that should be the first step before you do anything else. If you're under 24, this also means you have to get your parents to hurry up and not wait for the last possible minute. Just make sure they know it won't cost them anything to apply for federal aid - the point is to get free money for college, after all!

Once the taxes are in, the next step is to head over to to link the income tax profile to your student aid profile. With a few extra forms and clicks, you'll have all the required data and all that's left to do is sit back and wait to see how the government calculates your personalized financial need.

Just remember: These applications are time sensitive, and even if you're eligible you'll need to turn them in soon if you want to have it for your college before they run out of money!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Not all private colleges are worth the cost

Among talk of expanding the federal Pell Grant programs available to help students pay for college, some attention could be paid to whether or not such funds are being spent efficiently by sending students to expensive private colleges that offer little or nothing that much cheaper public universities and colleges are able to provide.

Every year, billions of dollars in aid and subsidized student loans are provided, and much of this money finds its ways to relatively expensive schools with admissions policies that aren't exactly restrictive.

State and local public universities already receive assistance from those respective governing bodies that authorize them, and in many instances they provide a better value per student dollar than any but the most elite and competitive of ivy league universities. With an affordable alternative already available, should the federal government continue to fund the profitability of private institutions? Are the accreditation policies relevant to our nation's educational needs?

It would be hard for the government to get involved in the business of rating the worthiness of various colleges and universities, but they're already in the business of paying for them!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Remember to Apply for Financial Aid

It is January again and that means applications for Federal Financial Aid are once again available online for students to complete for free. All applications are time sensitive, so even if you complete your submissions prior to the final deadline, you may have already waited too long! Schools receive a certain amount of funding to disburse in the order applications were received, so even if you're eligible and complete everything on time there might not be any funds left by the time you get to the front of the line.

The first step to applying for federal financial aid is to complete your taxes from the last year - so if you need documentation from your employers be sure to get in contact with them to remind them and let them know! Once you've got your IRS forms complete, it is easy to migrate this data into the FAFSA website and before you know it, you'll receive a report in the email confirming your aid eligibility and estimating the amount of money available to help you fund your college costs.

There's no reason to procrastinate - be sure to complete your Free Application for Federal Student Aid as soon as possible! The process is free and easy, so don't worry about all of those "specialists" who want to charge you tons of money to complete the forms. Thanks to some reforms and rebuilding of the online system, its never been easier or quicker to apply.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Students Increasingly Turn to Loans

The latest numbers from the federal department of education show a huge spike in the number of students borrowing money for college - as well as a sharp increase in the amount of money they are borrowing.

Unfortunately, there isn't much of a surprise here, because tuition costs and on-campus living expenses have been rising much quicker than wages or even other costs. Many schools are saddled with their own excessive debts and have little choice but to constantly raise tuition to pay for projects begun many years ago at the peaks of the credit boom.

An interesting note from the government was that it appears as though more students are choosing the direct loans from the federal source. The interest rates on these loans tend to be a bit lower than comparable private student loan deals, so the rise in the actual amount of debt being paid back may be lower than the rise in principle borrowed. In a way, that means more money going to education per dollar spent on student loan servicing - and that's at least a small win for financial efficiency.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Free College - No One Said it is Easy

Want to go to college for free? Seriously, do you want other people and organizations to pay for your tuition and possibly even your living expenses?

Its possible, but its not exactly easy. If it was, everybody would be doing it but instead most students rely on student loans and increasing levels of employment while enrolled.
As costs have steadily risen at an alarming pace, many students work full time while attending college and pursuing a degree.

Scholarships are out there - literally billions of dollars worth of awards - and the federal government is also providing billions of dollars in financial aid for financially needy students. Subsidized loans are still debt, but they have a lot of advantages over debt and in many ways serve as a source of free college money.

So why don't more students get free college funding?

There's a lot of work involved in finding the opportunities, being motivated, and staying determined despite the interruptions, rejections, and frustrations that are sure to be involved. Maybe its even safer to spend that time you could be chasing scholarships and grants with a solid job in the industry or sector you want to major in and pursue a career with. The value of that experience can not be measured with mere dollars - you might even realize from your work history that its not the exact sector you want to be in - or maybe you'll find the specialization within the business that interests you the most and reignites your passion for the subject.

To achieve free college funding, you'll need to focus in on the scholarships, grants, and contests that reflect your personal skills and talents. You have to balance the specificity of the award program with a large volume of applications. Most applications will get rejected, you may send out 10 or 20 for every award you can expect to actually receive.

If writing 100 or 200 financial aid applications sounds like something you can reasonably accomplish, then free college is a real possibility. If those numbers scare you, at least fill out a FAFSA to see if you can get some grants and cheap loans!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Free College Math Classes at Whatcom Community College

Math is an essential skill in the modern world, whether or not you're sitting in a college classroom taking a calculus test. Whatever level or types of math we need for our jobs and daily lives, math is a powerful tool and the best way to gain skill is to practice using it. The bad news is that a typical math class costs money, but online you can get the same college level instruction and practice for free.

Whatcom Community College has an extensive Online Math Center with free college classes, reviews, interactive practice programs, and educational resources for younger students.

What? Math? Its Boring!

The mathematics we know today is based on observation of the manifestations of energy and matter in the world around us. As scientists observed nature, they made careful note of the exact measurements that they could calculate.

Over time, mathematicians began to notice patterns in nature and numbers or ratios that were commonly repeated in the shapes of the trees and animals. Geometry became a source of many seemingly universal truths, and human's first look at the infinite complexity of existence. The thing we consider a circle is essentially a function of a universal constant, Pi, a number so complicated, irrational that the suggestion of its very existence created a controversy.

And these numbers and patterns were brought to life in the human world as architectural towers, engineering feats, and early machines. Thousands of years later, astronomers would apply these numbers to the stars and planets, and they would discover the numbers and patterns of gravity and motion that could create factories, engines, and electricity.

The story of math does not end, and every chapter is more powerful than the one before it. I'm not sure how it could be considered dull if one remembers exactly what those numbers represent.