“You wasted $150,000 on an education you coulda got for a buck fifty in late charges at the public library.” –Will Hunting.
That’s the opening quote of UnCollege.org’s manifesto, which explains the social movement responding to skyrocketing college loans and conformist, regurgitative education in traditional establishments. UnCollege is one of several organizations striving to amend the accepted perception that the road to success is paved in college or university degrees. Those who have walked it often feel that they would not trade anything for their education—and rightfully so—but many also feel the weight of debt driving their finances and future opportunities to the ground.
That’s where non-traditional education can step in.
Having no other option but college or work is no longer an option for those who want higher education without the debt. UnCollege’s manifesto explains and advocates:
- The interrelation of life and education
- Introspection and creativity, the number one “leadership competency”
- Self-directed learning
- Contributing to society without a typical university degree
- The contrived and conformist information often administered in college and universities, as opposed to innovation and critical thinking offered by UnCollege and liberal arts institutions
In 2013, UnCollege will launch its first Gap Year program, which will take 10 people for a year to several months of learning and pursuing creative projects in San Francisco, three months abroad, and three months working on a startup. The program lasts a year and incurs $10,000—significantly cheaper than the cost of many two- or four-year degrees.
Liberal arts institutions
Liberal arts schools have similar aims for its students—critical thinking skills worthy of artists and diplomats alike—but at a high cost. Fortunately, many reputable liberal arts institutions are public and have public school price tags, such as:
- College of Charleston ($4,959 for residents)
- New College of Florida (about $3,768 for residents per semester)
- University of Mary Washington ($2,343 for residents per semester)
Free online courses
Some things really are free, like many courses in trigonometry, medicine, animation, finance, and the humanities taken online through the Khan Academy. The Khan Academy is a not-for-profit that makes education available to anyone anywhere with an internet connection. This means a hefty video library, interactive challenges, and assessments galore.
Coursera provides something similar, partnering with established universities across the globe to provide online courses for anyone, for free. The concept is the same as Khan Academy: watch video lectures, learn at one’s own pace, and pursue self-assessment and interactive lessons. This method gives the employed and unemployed the time and means to pursue quality education.
Those who can afford and covet a traditional education should do just that. Those who cannot, however, might give non-traditional education a try. The excuses are beginning to run short.
Carmen Brettel is a writer and manager for Studentgrants.org, where she has recently been researching financial aid for women. In her spare time, Carmen enjoys gardening and volunteering at animal shelters.