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.