Friday, February 27, 2009

Time To Learn Something New - 7 Relatively Frugal Ways to Continue Your Education

Above you'll see a picture of a place I've never been. This is my alma mater. I received a B.A. degree from Western Illinois University in 2005. Never took a step onto the campus. It only took me 22 years to get this piece of paper and I am particularly proud of it. I started at the University of Louisville in 1983, doing the whole college trip from dorm room to sorority house and I wouldn't trade it for anything. Sadly, I stopped just 15 hours short and it was a long haul to finish my degree.
As we are in the bad times now, I think it's advantageous for all of us to have a backup plan. One of the reasons I finished my Bachelor's was just in case. I didn't want to find myself trying to replicate my current income elsewhere without a degree. There are endless education options now and not all of them fit the frugal requirement or your particular needs. The major online and brick-and-mortar universities are vulgarly expensive and increasing every year. It can be argued that any education is good, but if you are saddling yourself and your family with extra debt it can become a burden instead.
Here are some less pricey and time-friendly options to think about for extra training, to try something new or to finish up something that was started a long time ago:

  1. Your own state school system. Here in Louisville many more classes are being offered online or in hybrid form (half online and half classroom). Kentucky offers a website that encompasses all online courses including full degrees and certifications at Kentucky Virtual University. They range from a Bachelor's of Public Administration to a certification in Archive Studies to a Master's in Criminology. Community college classes here start at $121/credit hour. Not bad for some extra knowledge. Most states have composite websites along the same lines including a fantastic Iowa Consortium that is chockfull of useful prerequisites for $120/credit hour for out-of-state students. The Iowa colleges are great in that an actual human answers the phone and says things like, "OK, thanks for calling. You are now enrolled in the class you requested." Bizarre.
  2. Additional certifications. Along with the aforementioned certificate in Archive Studies, how about a Grant Writing Certification? Or Library Information Technology. Most of these are fifteen hours of class and apply toward a Master's if needed. It's a quicker way to get a leg up without a commitment to a full degree.
  3. The Illinois Virtual Campus. For my money and opinion, this is the way to go. Illinois offers 329 accredited programs that can be completed online. I think for the average student they are head and shoulders above the rest. My tuition at Western Illinois was $167/credit hour. A bargain by any standard. The University of Illinois at Springfield is also a bargain at $283.25 for graduate tuition. They offer a great Master's of Public Administration that is NASPAA certified and an M.A. in Environmental Studies that looks like fun.
  4. A total departure from your norm. Apparently welding and trucking class enrollments are skyrocketing. I personally love the idea of learning to weld. My local community college offers a program for Welding and for Culinary Arts and Surgical Technology. Probably can't go wrong with any of them.
  5. A little known school that's cheap and accredited. American Public University and American Military University are accredited schools with bargain tuitions at $750/class for undergraduate and $835/class for graduate students. Primarily catering to overseas and active-duty military, these schools conduct all classes online and have spread out to include the general population. They offer all sorts of degrees ranging from an Associate's in Explosive Ordnance Disposal to a Master's in Emergency & Disaster Management. They also carry the basic history and poli sci degrees and that sort of thing.
  6. That Harvard degree you just can't live without. Harvard Extension School offers several classes and degrees online or with a minimum of onsite attendance. They are taught by Harvard professors without the attendant $32,000/per year tuition. Extension School classes range from $800 to $1725 per class. You can earn a graduate Environmental Management certification entirely online. It may be considered Harvard lite by some, but it's still Harvard and certainly would be worth something out here in the hinterlands.
  7. Learn a language. We all need to be fluent in something besides the King's bastardized English. The library offers a multitude of dvds and cds and books to get you started. There are plenty of continuing education classes offered that can get your feet wet and almost any of the above options have language education as part of their programs. I had a distance Spanish class that I had to call in to the professor and do my pronunciation and speaking homework on her answering machine. Unorthodox but it worked. You can also sign up through many community programs for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages programs. In many programs there are opportunities to become a practice buddy for a person learning English. It's a great to way to volunteer, meet someone new and trade language skills.

A few caveats:

  • Make sure any official program is accredited by a regional agency. This is fairly easy to find out. An accredited school will have it prominently displayed within their literature.
  • Lots of people find that online classes are not for them. I loved them and I'm a terrible procrastinator. They do take a lot of discipline. Many professors pile on the work to make up for the time not spent sitting in a classroom. I did find that, for me, I was much more interactive than I have been in regular classes. My opinions were less structured to the expectations of the class and so was my writing and I was definitely a better student for it.

So what talents can you parlay into a viable livelihood if need be? I can wait tables, bartend, write, and speak enough French to get me kicked out of the country. I think I probably need to learn how to weld just in case. Any more ideas for ways to educate yourself as a hedge against the future?


Robynn's Ravings said...

What a lot of research and helpful info for everyone! Thanks for all of that. :)

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