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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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  • I'd hire him (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Captain_Chaos (103843) on Tuesday December 11, 2012 @12:49PM (#42252151)
    I'd hire this guy in a flash. This kind of stunt shows a level of creativity, commitment and out of the box thinking that's worth more than any college degree.
    • by ackthpt (218170)

      I'd hire this guy in a flash. This kind of stunt shows a level of creativity, commitment and out of the box thinking that's worth more than any college degree.

      Careful ... that's how Microsoft got started.

    • by ByOhTek (1181381)

      Yeah. That degree itself doesn't say squat, how he got it shows cleverness and a desire to put effort into a goal, as well as a drive to cost effectiveness.

    • I never really got an education, seeing as I was born an orphan and went to art college...
    • Have things changed so much in education that this is astounding? I went to va tech (in state) and paid for it and living out of summer job cash as did most of the other engineering students with whom I attended in the late eighties (cool story bro) (tuition was like $2500 per year iirc). Even if the tuition costs have tripled I can't imagine that it's that hard to live of the economy or summer in more lucrative places to save ahead. Va tech at the time was a top twenty overall engineering school .... Unm n

    • I agree he's hirable...but he demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of learning...

      You didn't go to college unless you studied *all* disciplines as a survey and study *most* of *one* subject under the supervision of recognized experts in the subject..

      If you didn't do that you didn't get a *college education* you got a *piece of paper*

      However, he does demonstrate intelligence and more importantly persistence. He followed through with his stupid plan to the end...that means something.

      I wouldn't consider

  • by phantomfive (622387) on Tuesday December 11, 2012 @12:50PM (#42252171) Journal
    Sounds like it's worth as much as a typical associates degree. We're not exactly setting the bar high, here....
    • by i kan reed (749298) on Tuesday December 11, 2012 @01:43PM (#42252789) Homepage Journal

      Contempt for associates degrees is part of the mechanics that drive up the cost of college degrees. If you're ever in a hiring role, I hope you'll reconsider your position. With the huge percentage of people going to a four year school and simply not caring about academics, the distinction of a BA doesn't seem like it holds much more(if any) value than an associates.

      • by dcollins (135727)

        Contempt for bachelors degrees is part of the mechanics that drive up the cost of college degrees. The fact that bachelors are the new high school diploma is why so many people now need a Master's to distinguish themselves in any way.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 11, 2012 @12:50PM (#42252175)

    You can get a degree for very cheap, even a decent one.
    1. Find a good state school
    2 Pick a degree and read all the requirements for that degree very carefully.
    3. Look in the transfer database for that school. Take every course that can transfer in exactly from a local community college
    4. Take the rest of the courses from that state school.

    I got my Engineering degree without taking a single general elective from the school. Everything came from online/summer community college courses for 1/4 the price. Most people spend to much at college because they go where it is convenient and they don't pick a degree until the 3rd or 4th year.

    • All good points and very doable. Understand that it will take you at least five years to do this.
      • All good points and very doable. Understand that it will take you at least five years to do this.

        To be fair, it's becoming more common for the "4-year" Bachelor's degree to take five or more years anyway, at least with engineering.

        • by PCM2 (4486)

          To be fair, it's becoming more common for the "4-year" Bachelor's degree to take five or more years anyway, at least with engineering.

          It's happening with lots of fields. One thing that I've seen happen to students in all types of degree programs is that they'll need one more class to complete their requirements but the school isn't offering the class they need this semester, due to budget cuts.

          Also, anyone who has strict scheduling requirements -- say, they have a job to pay for all this school, so they can only take night classes on certain days -- is especially susceptible to this.

      • by ByOhTek (1181381)

        Only if the degree itself would normally take 5 years, which typically only happens when switching majors.

      • at least for the first two years in a community college, "summer vacation" did not exist in my vocabulary. I managed to crank out 133 semester hours in two years with no student loans.

    • by ackthpt (218170)

      You can get a degree for very cheap, even a decent one.
      1. Find a good state school
      2 Pick a degree and read all the requirements for that degree very carefully.
      3. Look in the transfer database for that school. Take every course that can transfer in exactly from a local community college
      4. Take the rest of the courses from that state school.

      I got my Engineering degree without taking a single general elective from the school. Everything came from online/summer community college courses for 1/4 the price. Most people spend to much at college because they go where it is convenient and they don't pick a degree until the 3rd or 4th year.

      Or you can find some full-time job in the university so your tuition is largely covered as a fringe benefit, like I did. 2 degrees (c:

      Fees and books I still had to foot, but that was insignificant compared to the price of tuition.

      I really hadn't though about it before, but that fringe benefit has opened a lot of doors and kept me in wasabi peas for a mighty long time and I never really tallied up the amount in zorkmids my employer footed. Pretty good deal all around. HOYVIN-GLAVIN!

    • by ByOhTek (1181381)

      Yep.

      Actually, the state university I work for, encourages exactly that behavior. Heck, we even encourage students to take lower level major courses offered by the local community colleges, at the CCs. I've heard a few groups talk about getting us out of the lower-level course offerings, and just working with the local CCs since they tend to do it better anyway (we a a research institution, and a lot of our profs don't want to be bothered with lower level stuff).

      • by ackthpt (218170)

        Yep.

        Actually, the state university I work for, encourages exactly that behavior. Heck, we even encourage students to take lower level major courses offered by the local community colleges, at the CCs. I've heard a few groups talk about getting us out of the lower-level course offerings, and just working with the local CCs since they tend to do it better anyway (we a a research institution, and a lot of our profs don't want to be bothered with lower level stuff).

        Yeah, those JC's and Community Colleges work pretty well. A friend had a full scholarship to Stanford, but found his first semester was not to his liking - sitting in 300+ student lecture halls taking notes while a TA flips through slides and answers questions with an accent so thick he had to ask three times for it to be repeated. Came back home, knocked off his first two years in classes of 20-40 students and then returned to Stanford to finish up.

        • by ByOhTek (1181381)

          I had smaller classes at the large university, than a friend had at the local CC (but I took honors courses). Class isn't always indicated.

  • An associate degree in liberal arts is a highly valuable degree quite contrary to what most posters will say. Most 4 year schools will accept an AA to meet all of the universities general education requirements allowing the student to move on to upper division course work in their interest area. That same course work would need to be completed in your first two years anyway, but would cost at lest 4 times as much. A good student could complete the course work listed in the article in well under an academic

    • Not that useful for any serous science/engineering/math degree.

      Any math or science taken in the _bachelors_ of Liberal Arts program would be remedial for STEM programs. If your not in real Calculus 1st semester you're going to take more then 4 years, just on stacked up prerequisites.

      Which leaves you with a little english, history, a foreign language, maybe econ (econ would have been the 'bear' class in the liberal arts track). Maybe 30 credits transferred.

      • by borcharc (56372) *

        Most STEM programs have calc as part of the degree requirements and can easily be done in the first year. As long as he is calculus ready there is no hold up. At most it would take 2.5-3 years to complete but he is still ahead of the game. Very few are able to complete a STEM program in 4 years unless they arrive with AP calc, chem, phys, comp, etc.

        Any state school will take all 60 credits will transfer and exempt you from whatever gen ed program exists and cover any electives that may exist once your progr

  • Excelsior College (Score:5, Informative)

    by whitroth (9367) <whitroth@NOsPaM.5-cent.us> on Tuesday December 11, 2012 @12:57PM (#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.

  • Not only is an AA a worthless degree but it only cost him $3000. I guess it is better than spending more on an equally worthless degree.

  • by kdataman (1687444) on Tuesday December 11, 2012 @01:02PM (#42252299)

    When I decided that my music degree wasn't going to give me the career I wanted, I decided to get an accounting degree. I used Thomas Edison State College in NJ which is regionally accredited but was all non-resident at that time. I was able to use CLEP, ACT, and other similar tests to test out of 75 accounting and business credits over 2 years. TESC combined those with my liberal arts credits from my music degree to award my accounting degree. When I went to Trenton State for graduate study I was prepared to explain my degree, but I didn't need to. The admissions person said that they had very good luck with Thomas Edison grads because they knew how to study on their own.

  • I've got that beat (Score:5, Interesting)

    by oodaloop (1229816) on Tuesday December 11, 2012 @01:06PM (#42252343)
    I received a BS in Liberal Arts from Excelsior College without having taken a single college class, for a total of about $600. I took 30 CLEP, DANTE, and Excelsior exams and transferred some military credits.
  • My local JC (Santa Rosa, CA) offers a Liberal Studies Associate Degree that requires 42 units. At $46/unit, that works out to $1,932. Granted you will still need to buy books and things, but I'm not sure what the big deal is with this guy's cobbled together $3k degree. And I've heard that my local JC is considered one of the best in the state.
  • by Corporate T00l (244210) on Tuesday December 11, 2012 @01:09PM (#42252391) Journal

    The route described in the article is kind of arcane, and he leaves out one of the easiest ways, not just for getting partial funding, but even getting all of your costs funded: High SAT scores.

    There are plenty of fully accredited 4-year universities out there who will pay for everything just based on SAT scores or a combination of GPA and SAT scores.

    We're talking "Full Ride", like tuition, room, board, and books in many cases:

    http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/financial-aid-scholarships/1348012-automatic-full-tuition-full-ridescholarships.html [collegeconfidential.com]

    or significant scholarships that can get the net 4-year cost down to varying levels:

    http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/financial-aid-scholarships/848226-important-links-automatic-guaranteed-merit-scholarships.html?highlight=automatic [collegeconfidential.com]

    All based on quantitative measurements alone.

    It's hard to say why Richard Linder went through such obscure means in order to get his credits rather than just studying his ass off for the SAT's, but I suspect the reason why he went for "cheap credits" is where the real untold story is.

  • by davydagger (2566757) on Tuesday December 11, 2012 @01:25PM (#42252575)
    Two ways to get a free/cheap post-HS education

    1. Smart enough to get a schollarship

    2. Join the military.

    While in the military, any classes you take in the military at any college, are paid for by the military.(still have to do your duties as a solider in the mean time). University of Phoenix specializes in doing this for soliders.

    Two, GI Bill, 3 years of active duty or more, and you get the New GI Bill, which gives you 36 months of education in an accredited school, payed for %100, by the army. in addition the government gives a stipend for living expenses.
  • We need a badges system that is not big years+ blocks that a Degrees are.

  • I have an Excelsior bachelors degree. It was inexpensive and the credits were cobbled together from all over the place. The main value I got from the degree was that I was able to use it to enter Graduate School. While I learnt a lot of stuff in the course of getting my BS in Liberal Studies, the knowledge I use for my job I got from my Grad School education. It seems to me that this country has a liberal arts based education. To get a bachelors degree you have to take a lot of courses in stuff like langua
  • There is much more you can do if you're willing to take on just a little (comparatively) debt. I posted about this before, but my undergraduate institution had the highest tuition in the nation at the time. Through scholarships and grants, I got the tuition cut down in half, and through work study and a part time job (plus a small loan from my parents, which I paid off before I graduated) I managed to leave with two Bachelors degrees and only 30k in debt. That may sound like a lot, but the full tuition at t
  • I worked my way through college debt-free. After working as part time as a programmer for a year after high school, I started as a full time programmer at the same time I started college. It took 5 years, but I got an accredited BS CS and graduated Summa Cum Laude, all without any debt or parental assistance. Success in school and life in general isn't magic -- just focus a lot more on the hard work rather than the goofing off.
  • Winston University [youtube.com] is always a cash positive option.
  • by ortholattice (175065) on Tuesday December 11, 2012 @02:06PM (#42253019)

    Although community colleges are often low-cost, it is hard to find one that gives more than a 2-year degree. One of the reasons is that private colleges, such as University of Phoenix, have lobbied against it, since it would hurt their profits.

    Reference: University of Phoenix' plot to corner the cheap education market [salon.com]

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