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.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Students Hard Hit by Weakening Job Market

As money and credit gets scarce across America, some of the hardest hit in terms of employment are students looking for a summer job. While the official unemployment rate has only hit 5.5%, part of this consideration is that very few young people have been able to enter the "labor force." By this calculation, anyone looking for that first job and unable to secure employment isn't actually unemployed - they're kind of hanging in a non-classified group of discouraged or "under-employed" individuals.

Still, the best way to secure a good job after school is to study in an in-demand field such as medicine, engineering, or anything essentially scientific and technical. Computer information technology might not be quite the secure career as it used to be, but computer literacy and internet proficiency are still valuable skills that can be applied to almost any sector of the economy. Financial job outlook is bleak, and maybe this isn't the best time to get a real estate license or an investment banking degree. On the other hand, accounting is still a stable growth career niche, as is leadership and organizational management.

Jobs do exist for people without degrees, as well. Current high school and college students might be able to find work by lowering their income expectations and reducing their cost of living. A big step toward preparing for a lower cost of living in the long term is to avoid taking out any student loan debt unless you're quite sure that the major you've selected can support the required job and salary growth for you to pay it back. With Wall Street announcing major layoffs and salary cuts, this might not be the best time to start an ivy-league MBA program that leaves you $200,000 in debt. Then again, $200,000 is an average amount of student loan debt for a new doctor, and the job prospects means more of those students will be able to pay that back without filing bankruptcy or living like a pauper.

Its also great to do something you love, and these days I feel the best way you're going to accomplish that is by working for yourself. Think about the thing in life you most enjoy, now can you create a business model around it? If you love to make art, can you find the buyers yourself? If you love to write, can you publish, connect to readers, and sell ads on your own? The internet makes a lot of this possible - and many college graduates are moving to make it happen with their own businesses.

Innovation is the only cure to an economic downturn - and education is the key.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Are selective student loans better than federal guarantees?

A lot of student loan companies are getting out of the business - the federal subsidies and risk insurance simply aren't worth the risk in certain types of colleges. As the lenders move to private loans, they are raising interest rates and they are evaluating student borrowers on an individual basis. While the student and student's family credit rating will play a role, some lenders are also looking at graduation and employment rates of their colleges. Before long, student lenders are likely to consider employment outlooks and average starting salaries of the various majors and professions...

While Congress scrambles to figure out new ways to pump money and profitability into the student debt business, maybe they should be instead asking if this program serves a total net benefit to society. Guaranteed subsidized loans create a lot of demand for college enrollment - including students who aren't necessarily prepared for college and some students who are spending more than they otherwise would have been willing to spend. Instead of trying to save costs, many students are borrowing enough to feel completely unconcerned with later financial concerns they'll have to face.

There's an issue of rapid tuition inflation - some of this is from the general monetary inflation of the current American economy, and some of it is from this over-purchasing of higher education.
The current cost of maintaining the status quo is actually more tuition inflation, more government spending, and more debt for graduating college students and less money for them in the long run.

Currently, federally subsidized student loans are only based on income and parental income. If we shifted to a merit-based and need-based loan system, a lot of the risk inherent to the system would evaporate and we'd still be helping our most needing and talented students with money for college.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Free College Education - Minus the Degree

One great aspect of the internet is the availability of free educational resources. Nowadays, this even includes lectures and class materials from some of the nation's most prominent universities and academic collections.

Carnegie Mellon
Free online courses at Carnegie Mellon

The following online courses are available for free to anyone through the Open Learning Initiative:
  • Engineering Statistics
  • Statistics
  • Causal & Statistical Reasoning
  • Modern Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Economics
  • French
  • Logic & Proofs
  • Physics
  • Empirical Research Methods
  • Computational Discrete Mathematics

Library of Congress
Free resources at the Library of Congress

The American Memory Collections provide an authoritative source of historical documents, analysis, and unique Library of Congress treasures:
  • Advertising
  • African American History
  • Architecture, Landscape
  • Cities, Towns
  • Culture, Folklife
  • Environment, Conservation
  • Government, Law
  • Immigration, American Expansion
  • Literature
  • Maps
  • Native American History
  • Performing Arts, Music
  • Presidents
  • Religion
  • Sports, Recreation
  • Technology, Industry
  • War, Military
  • Women's History

University of Washington
Free courses at University Washington

OpenUW provides internet users with access to University of Washington course materials:
  • The American Civil War
  • Energy, Diet and Weight
  • Greek Mythology
  • Gulliver's Travels
  • Hamlet
  • HTML Basics
  • History of Jazz: New Orleans
  • The American Revolution
  • Shakespeare's Comedies
  • Heroic Fantasy: Tolkien
  • World War II