Sources of Free College Credit and Continuing Education Classes
Whether you have just graduated high school and need to find cheaper ways to gain college credit or review college level material, there are a growing number of options available online. These classes are available online and on demand without any cost to students.
These resources will help you whether you are looking for a cheaper alternative to remedial coursework, want to shave money of the cost of the first year of college, need to review lower level courses before returning to school or want to improve your understanding of a whole host of subjects.
These online college courses can also prepare high school students and home schooling students for Advanced Placement exams, helping them to earn college credit before they enroll in school.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology or MIT stands out as one of the leading science, engineering and technology schools in the United States. MIT took the lead in offering online classes to the public with MIT OpenCourseWare. As of this writing, MIT is offering over 2100 classes through MIT Open CourseWare.
These classes range from commonly available courses to niche classes you may not find at the local four year university. For example, it offers a course on American history through the Civil War, considered American History 101 at many school, and “The Emergency of Modern America, 1865-present”, the equivalent of History 102. Yet you can watch niche lessons such as an overview of the Energy Crisis in the 1970s and the history of New York. MIT OpenCourseWare offers American Literature and courses on Shakespeare that are found in most liberal arts departments along with esoteric offerings like a course on “Paradise Lost” and one focused on “Detective Fiction”.
MIT has also made some of its math, science and engineering courses available online. From algebra to differential equations, the theory of probability to “Statistical Learning Theory”, MIT offers many general and upper level math courses online. Engineers can watch modules on polymer physics, an introduction to computer science, artificial intelligence and programming in C++. Many of the MIT open courses were recorded in the classrooms of some of the top MIT professors.
Medical students, medical professionals or simply those interested in medical topics can select from many courses, such as toxicology, biomedical information technology and noninvasive imaging. Classes on bioinformatics and proteomics are under the engineering and computer science listings, though they are more generally considered part of the medical field.
Viewing online courses through MIT OCW does not result in college credit, either through MIT or any other school. You may use these online courses to further your understanding of topics, review material not presented well by your current professors, watch them during self-study while preparing for Advanced Placement (AP) and CLEP tests or study subjects before returning to college to finish a degree.
Education Portal Academy
The Education Portal Academy offers many entry level and mid-level college courses online. Unlike online courses through traditional colleges, Education Portal Academy is free. You can find commonly required courses like college algebra, introduction to biology, English 101 and Principles of Management. How do you earn college credit for these courses? These classes do not result in college credit simply by watching the videos.
You must take the College-Level Examination Program or CLEP exams. Upon passing these tests, you will receive several hours of college credit. If you are currently in school, you will need to consult with the college to find out if they accept CLEP tests in lieu of attending their classes. If you are in high school, find out which courses can be skipped via CLEP examination. As of this writing, there are 33 classes offered through Education Portal Academy that are available as CLEP tests.
It is much cheaper to take the class online for free through Education Portal Academy and take the test than pay for several tuition hours.
However, not all schools will recognize this credit, so find out before you take the CLEP test. You can take the CLEP test at a college or trade school near you, no matter which college you will be attending. To encourage those who take its courses to take CLEP tests, Education Portal Academy currently enters those who take CLEP tests after taking their online courses into a drawing for a thousand dollars. There is a new drawing every month.
These courses are also an excellent refresher for adults about to return to college, such as someone who needs to review calculus before taking the Calculus 2 course required to complete a degree.
Given the explosion of online education, this Hub is a good start but by no means complete as a list of online educational resources.
Use Courseade to find ongoing and upcoming online classes in subjects from programming to science to engineering to finance.
Hillsdale College Free Online Courses
Hillsdale College is one of the few colleges in the country that refuses to accept federal funds. Hillsdale College started offering a free, online Constitution 101 course in 2012. It has since added a Constitution 201 course, “Introduction to the Constitution” and many others.
The Hillsdale College Constitution online courses are excellent resources when preparing for the “American Government 101” and “History of the United States I: Early Colonization to 1877” CLEP tests and Advanced Placement Exams. These online Constitutional courses are also a good refresher for anyone considering law school.
How to Earn College Credit with CLEP and AP Exams
The College-Level Examination Program or CLEP tests and Advanced Placement or AP exams are offered by the College Board, the same group that created and administers the SAT. AP courses are targeted to teenagers and high school students who have not yet enrolled in college. College-Level Examination Program or CLEP tests are available to those in college and adults considering returning to school. The College Board’s CLEP website states that taking the exams help military veterans receive college credit for training they received in the military.
Earning college credit is as simple as signing up for an exam or scheduling one at testing center, paying the modest fee (which is reduced for financially challenged students and paid for by some school districts) and taking the test.
TED, The Enrichment Lectures You Wish Your Teachers Gave
TED calls itself a website dedicated to ideas worth spreading. While TED’s online presentations are not preparation for college courses or exams that earn test takers college credit, these seminars are an excellent way to learn about current topics or recent developments in technology. TED also has seminars with in depth discussions on niche topics like the life of Nikola Tesla, the “Great Firewall of China” and augmented reality.
TED is great when you are faced with the question, "What will I write a paper about?" If you are assigned the topic of human rights, skip the worn out topic of slavery in 1860 and write about it in the modern world. Lisa Kristine's presentation "Photos that bear witness to modern slavery" is an amazing visual display of the horrors of slavery going on today.
If you are writing a paper on psychology or the creeping expansion of "mental illness" to encompass many things once normal, watch Susan Cain's "The power of introverts" on how our society expects everyone to be extroverted and treats introverts as if there is something wrong with them despite the advantages of this personality trait. Or watch Jon Ronson's "Strange answers to the psychopath test", revealing how a psychopath test's check list led him to want to find abnormal traits in someone while ignoring the normal ones and the conflicting diagnostic criteria that led a man to be classified as a "psychopath" unable to get out of a mental institution no matter what he did, because all behaviors were on the checklist. Or watch "The Surprising Science of Happiness" and counter the myth that psychology is a "soft science" that cannot be studied in a purely analytical manner.
TED’s presentations are not just for young adults. If you have a second grader learning about the solar system, show them Jon Nguyen’s lecture “Tour the Solar System from Home”. Let your children or young adults see “The Greatest Machine That Never Was”, a behemoth that was the precursor to modern computers, the next time they complain about how archaic your current computer is.
Khan Academy is a free, online learning resource. Khan Academy offers courses on everything from elementary level math to college algebra. Khan Academy offers short videos on topics ranging from science and medicine to the humanities and history. Videos tend to focus on a specific concept or process such as solving one step equations and how to write proportions correctly. Khan Academy provides solutions for classic math problems like "passing trains" and "who arrives first, the person who leaves early and walks or leaves later and drives slowly". The math lessons can guide a student through elementary math problems such as "why borrowing works" and the concept of adding negative numbers.
Khan Academy helps parents and students with middle school word problems, algebra, geometry, trigonometry and calculus courses. Sections on currency and finance are a boon to accounting majors.
While Khan Academy was originally focused on mathematics instructions, it has added sections on science, history, economics and art history. The science sections include explanations on everything from the Big Bang to microscopic particles, the beginnings of life to its migration onto land to human evolution.
Khan Academy has added short videos on civics on matters such as how the Electoral College works and the difference between debt level and a budget deficit. It has a dedicated section on the credit crisis with explanations of bailouts, Collateralized Debt Obligations and mortgage backed securities.
Khan Academy has added short lectures on topics in history such as the Rosetta Stone, the Ishtar Gate and Eastern architectural pieces such as the Buddha of Medicine Bhaishajyaguru and several Japanese landmarks. Khan Academy has an expanding section on art history.
Khan Academy offers resources to prepare for state standardized tests such as the high school exit tests in several states, especially California. Khan Academy also offers resources to prepare for the math portion of the SAT test and the GMAT. However, Khan Academy does not offer the tests themselves or credit for the lessons taken.
Edx is described as a partnership between MIT and Harvard. EdX is open to both Harvard and MIT students and online learners. EdX is more interactive than watching Ted videos, since students can join in online real time discussions during and after watching educational videos. EdX has a learning management system, documenting courses taken, tracking completion of pre-requisites and completion of areas of study.
Unlike many online programs, EdX offers certificates of mastery, though students must pay to demonstrate their mastery. However, taking Edx courses does not result in enrollment or credit through any participating college. The EdX website states that certificates of mastery have been used on resumes by those who earned them.
LifeHacker U is an excellent online resource each semester that compiles a lot of valuable, mostly technical online courses for your learning pleasure.
LifehackerU combines courses available from some of the sites above with single semester courses from various colleges and non-profits.