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Degree Hack: Cobbling Together Credit Hours For Cheap 368

Posted by timothy
from the get-a-scholarship-you-kids dept.
McGruber writes "The Chronicle of Higher Education has a web episode about Richard Linder, a US college student who was determined to do the impossible: earn a U.S. college degree while not taking on any student debt. Mr. Linder cobbled together an associate degree in liberal arts for a mere $3,000. He did it by transferring academic credits to Excelsior College, a regionally accredited institution that doesn't require students to take any of its own courses. Mr. Linder's earned his transferred credit hours from an array of unexpected sources: from high school Advanced Placement courses to classes taught by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Fire Academy. He even managed to get one credit hour from Microsoft." I find his creativity in breadth and sources of credit-worthy instruction more interesting than the pricetag, though the commenters on the linked story are sharply divided on the value of the courses taken. While $3,000 is cheap for an associate's degree compared to many U.S. colleges, it's not unheard of; tuition for locals at a community college near me wouldn't be too far off that, even without transferring in any credits.
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Degree Hack: Cobbling Together Credit Hours For Cheap

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  • Excelsior College (Score:5, Informative)

    by whitroth (9367) <whitroth AT 5-cent DOT us> on Tuesday December 11, 2012 @01:57PM (#42252249) Homepage

    Is not just "regionally" accredited - it falls under the SUNY accreditation, and is a real, valid college degree. I should know: I have a BS from there (or rather, from when it was called Regents' College). You get accredited credits from colleges, accredited tests, etc, and when you have the right point spread, you get your degree. None of this crap from every other college about "oh, well, yes, you took compiler design there, but they have a different *emphasis*, and so we'll only call it an anonymous in-program upper-level elective, and you'll have to take it again", as UT at Austin told me in '91.

    There's also no more of this "you have to take the last 30 or 60 credits of your degree *here* (and pay us the money), and those credits aren't transferrable....

    It was created in '72 specifically for nursing and... can't remember, another program - students who were in the military, and "yes, we know you're three months from your degree, but Uncle is sending you to Germany for the next two years."

    Note this is *not* U of Phoenix, or some such, nor just a "credit bank".

                  mark, BS, CIS '95, and proud of it.

  • by jonadab (583620) on Tuesday December 11, 2012 @05:31PM (#42254333) Homepage Journal
    It depends.

    On the one hand, an Associates Degree by itself is about as useful as a solar panel in northeastern Ohio. It doesn't qualify you for anything that you weren't already qualified for with a high school diploma.

    On the other hand, many schools will accept a larger number of (undergrad) credits in transfer if you have an Associates Degree than otherwise. That is, after all, the main purpose of an Associates: to bundle up the two years' worth of gen ed courses you've already taken, from a school that doesn't offer the major you want, so that the school where you want to complete your four-year degree will take most of those credits, allowing you to finish in another two years.

    Of course, even with an Associates, the credits you transfer in are still only worthwhile if they count toward any of the requirements for your four-year degree. Many schools are willing to be a little bit flexible with this, though there are usually limits. For example, maybe the school normally requires Western Civ and US History plus one other social studies course, but if you're transferring in an Associates they may decide to accept any eight credits of history and four additional credits of social studies that you happen to have taken.

    So an Associates can be useful, e.g. if you live near a community college that offers a halfway decent Associates program. You can knock out a lot of your gen ed *before* going to the better, more expensive four-year college where you intend to complete your degree.

    All of this assumes that you are a returning adult student (e.g., someone who went out after high school and got a job to "save up" for college; after several years you have now saved up just about enough to cover your textbooks and maybe the occasional dorm sweatshirt). Anyone who just graduated from high school, with even remotely acceptable grades, is likely to be better off, financially, going straight to the four-year school the very next fall. You can often get a LOT more financial aid that way, and it's typically all renewable, so it will take you through all four years (assuming you keep your grades up and meet whatever extracurricular requirements the school has). Admittedly, this depends somewhat on the school, but your total debt for four years this way can potentially be less than what you would have paid just for the last two years, not even counting anything you had to spend to get the Associates in the first place -- because, transferring in from a community college with an associates, the financial aid department in most cases will basically tell you to see Uncle Stafford and Cousin Perkins. If you're fresh out of high school with reasonable grades, they're far more likely to hand you a package that includes grants and maybe the odd minor scholarship plus a work study option in addition to Stafford loans.

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