Saturday, July 30, 2011

Free Colleges and Universities

Recently, I did a Google search on "free colleges" and "free graduate programs". I was expecting a bunch of links for free university class podcasts, free completely-uncredited "certificate of achievement" type programs, etc.

To my surprise (although it took a bit of digging), there actually ARE free universities, both online and physical. Here's a roundup:

University: University of the People
Format: online, based in Pasadena, CA
Degrees: Associate of Science; Bachelor of Science
Programs: business administration, computer science
True Cost: "free tuition", $100 "test administration" fee per course, $50 application fee. Total cost for AS degrees: ~$1,800. Total cost for BS degrees: ~$3,600. However, as of now, the UOP is NOT charging the test administration fee for any classes, because they are not yet accredited.
Accreditation: unaccredited, currently seeking accreditation from U.S. Dept. of Education.
The Rundown: Unlike most unaccredited free diploma/certificate/degree programs, I am impressed by the fact that the UOP is actively seeking accreditation. Even more impressive, is that they took their current lack of accreditation into account in deciding not to charge exam processing fees as of now. Waiving fees in light of a lack of accreditation shows a certain level of integrity on the part of the UOP. The mission statement of "the global advancement and democratization of higher education" is admirable. I hope they succeed, expand, and ultimately make an accredited university education much more accessible to everyone, regardless of financial situation.

University: Trinity Graduate School of Apologetics and Theology
Format: online, based in India
Degrees: Bachelors of: Theology (BTh), Ministry (BMin); Postgraduate Diploma in Christian Apologetics (PGDA); Masters of: Biblical Studies (MBS), Divinity (MDiv), Ministry (MMin), Religious Education (MRE), Theology (MTh), Biblical Archeology (MBArch); Doctors of: Biblical Studies (DBS), Ministry (DMin), Divinity (DDiv), Religious Education (DRE), Theology (ThD), Apologetics (DrApol)
Programs: Theology, Ministry, Apologetics, Biblical Studies, Divinity, Religious Education, Biblical Archeology
True Cost: according to the website, everything is 100% free.
Accreditation: unaccredited in USA, accredited by the ICAATS (International Counsel for Accrediting Alternate and Theological Studies), which is an India-based, (Indian) government-recognized, private Christian accrediting counsel. It should be noted that I could NOT access this organization's website, and their blog was last updated in February 2010.
The Rundown: If you're interested in Christian-based religious education but don't necessarily want to actually go into ministry "professionally", this could be a good school for you. The courses appear to be quite thorough, and the variety of degrees offered is impressive. Based on the weak (to say the least) accreditation, a degree from this school will be unlikely to advance you far in a ministerial career. That said, if you're just looking to educate yourself and/or maybe to add some letters after your name, this could be a good thing.

University: College of the Ozarks, "Hard Work U"
Format: campus-based, located in Point Lookout, MO
Degrees: Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, Teaching Certification
Programs: full array of the usual undergraduate programs, including a few pre-professional programs.
True Cost: Tuition of $16,900/year, fully covered for all admitted students via scholarships, work-study, and grants. Students still have to pay for room and board, books, and Health/Technology/Services fees.
The Rundown: The school lacks any graduate programs, but does offer an impressive array of undergraduate programs. While the guaranteed tuition coverage makes CofO a relative bargain for a private school, it still comes out costing only slightly less than a public university because you still have to pay room, board, fees, and books, AND the work-study that every student must do to pay their tuition consists of 15 hours a week, which means that if someone wanted to work during school to cover their room/board costs, they'd likely end up working 25+ hours a weeks PLUS doing a full-time course load. No wonder they call themselves "Hard Work U".

University: The Cooper Union
Format: campus-based, located in New York, NY
Degrees: Bachelor of Architecture, Master of Architecture II, Bachelor of Fine Arts, Bachelor and Masters of Engineering
Programs: Architecture, arts, civil engineering, mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, electrical engineering
True Cost: Every student receives a full scholarship "valued at $35,000/year". Of course, again, the student is still responsible for their own room, board, books, and fees.
Accreditation: Appears to be fully accredited in the various fields of study it offers, but precise accreditation organizations were not found on the website.
The Rundown: For those interested in architecture or engineering, this seems like it would be a great school. Like CofO, you still have to pay your own room, board, fees, and books, BUT at least the financial aid is given in the form of scholarships instead of work-study, meaning it could be feasible to work less than 20 hours a work while enrolled full-time at this school. CU is pretty selective, only admitting 7% of applicants.

University: Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences
Format: campus-based, located in Bethesda, MD
Degrees: Masters, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Doctor of Medicine (MD)
Programs: Molecular and cell biology, public health, healthcare administration and policy, military medical history, tropical health and hygiene, clinical psychology, emerging infectious diseases, neuroscience, medical and clinical psychology, preventative medicine and biometrics, medicine
True Cost: Free tuition and fees, $26,000/year living stipend. Truly a free education.
Accreditation: Fully accredited.
The Rundown: For anyone interested in the health sciences, this would be an excellent school at which to receive a graduate education. Fully accredited, completely free, competitive admissions.

There are other free schools (ie U.S. military academies, tiny private colleges, unaccredited schools of every ilk) but they hardly warrant an entire write-up.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Perfect Apartment

Thinking about returning to school in September, I decided to start browsing apartment listings to find one that was reasonably priced, in a good location, and with amenities that I desire (such as on-site laundry).

I found the perfect one. 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms. $870-1035/month. On-site laundry. Billiard room. Even a basketball court! With a roommate, this would only be $435-$520 month per person. At first glance, I thought this seemed a bit pricey. That is, until I realized that the rent included all utilities and high-speed internet.

Until you have roommates, the pleasures of not having to share a bathroom may not be altogether clear. This is not to say that by having your own bathroom it makes it any less dirty than it would otherwise be. BUT it's your OWN dirt. That disturbingly-disgusting thing on your bathroom floor? Gross, yeah, but it also came from you, not someone else, and that alone lowers its disgustingness-factor by at least 1000.

Aside from the bathrooms, of course, this apartment has a lot going for it: close to campus (important for someone who does not currently, and may not in September, have a car), fairly spacious for a two-person apartment, and "superior sound insulation." In an apartment complex close to a college campus, the importance sound insulation cannot be underestimated. I have yet to hear someone's loud music/party/bedtime-activities and think, "Whoa that: is a cool song / sounds like a fun party / seems like someone I should get to know." Even IF someone happens to be listening to a song I like, they are listening to it at a volume that I do not appreciate (ie a volume at which I can tell what song it is from my room).

So, yes, this seems like a nice place to live. Even if my furniture isn't as nice as the furniture in the picture.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Sola scriptura?

I'm reading a somewhat interesting book (well, more like a booklet) called Scripture Alone? 21 Reasons to Reject Sola Scriptura. The author touches on a few key points that I happen to agree with, such as that while scripture is very important, it should not be the sole basis of our Christianity. He points out that sola scriptura is difficult to defend very simply because it is the organization of Christianity (or the "church") that first had to determine what exactly constitutes "scripture."

Thus, by definition, "scripture" would not be "scripture" without something outside of scripture (Christians themselves) to determine what scripture is.

Ultimately, I don't believe in "sola scriptura" because I believe that God can (and does) teach us to follow Him in so many different ways, different ways that do not always involve scripture. That said, I do believe that scripture is ultimately the core and basis of our Christian faith. In addition, it is immensely beneficial in teaching us to seek God's wisdom in everything we do.

Back to the book: I disagree with the author's assertion that scripture alone should be rejected because the Church itself confers essential parts of Christianity. So what's wrong with this? Nothing, if we consider the body of believers to be "the church". Unfortunately, the author very strictly interprets "the church" as "the Roman Catholic Church", and rather than simply acknowledging that Christians can learn from each other, he instead refers to Christians having an "infallible" leader on Earth (referring to the Pope). A simple survey of the history of the Catholic Church reveals very obviously the lack of "infallibility" of the Pope. Ironically, the author rejects the idea of sola scriptura on the basis of evidence that points to its logical rejection, while embracing wholeheartedly that the Catholic Church is the "one true Church" and that the Pope is "infallible", despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Overall, a thought-provoking read.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Bikes, Bibles, and Being Mindful

As you may (or may not) know, I sold my 1982 Chevy Chevette diesel car back in May, and have since been riding my bike (probably of a similar vintage) to work. My place of employment is only 3.6 miles from my house, so it's a nice ~25 minute bike ride there and back every work day.

At first, I disliked it. I hated that I had to leave my house at least 35 minutes before I was actually scheduled to work (bike ride + changing + cooling down time). I kept thinking, "Man, I can't wait until I own a car again." It felt like the wind blew against me every day (both ways), and that my out-of-breath-ness and physical exhaustion at the end of each ride would make for a miserable summer of biking back and forth between home and work.

But my misery didn't last long. After one week of riding back and forth, I decided to add my iPod to my daily ride. What a difference! The time seemed to go by quicker, I didn't notice the burning in my thighs as much, and the overall experience was considerably more pleasant. After a few days of using the iPod to listen to music on my ride, I switched to listening to free podcasts of classes (mostly UC-Berkeley classes). Even better! Not only did the time pass quickly, but I also got to enrich my mind every day.

Somewhere along the way (and the shift was almost imperceptible), I realized how thoroughly I enjoy my daily rides. It's at the point now where even on my days off I usually go for a ride, and feel "off" when I don't. I have a great time on my rides now, even when the wind is blowing against me (although that still dampers the enjoyment quite a bit). Even as the days have become hotter, I am getting to where I am less and less sweaty and tired at the end of my rides. I feel like I breathe better. I feel greater endurance in physical activity. I feel more alive.

Which brings me to mindfulness. I have been trying to live every aspect of my life more mindfully, being aware and feeling the moment as it comes. Not only that, but trying to become more fully aware of the fact that the actions I take (good or bad) have a slow, building (or tearing down) effect on my overall quality of life. I have started reading my Bible every day again (for the first time in about 7 years), and rather than trying to evaluate each and every reading for it's immediate and obvious value to myself at that very moment, I have instead been trying to focus on "the big picture". Never mind the details, how does this daily reading seem to effect everything in my life? Obviously I can't say for sure whether things have just been going well for me by chance or if it is a direct result of my daily reading. But one thing I do know: since I began reading my Bible again every day, my life has become better. Most notably: more peaceful. I get angry less, wallow in self-pity less, and have an overall greater sense of calm about my life.

And this is where mindfulness, bike riding, and reading the Bible all tie together: as I actively attempt to do things that I can see little immediate benefit from, but which should theoretically improve my state over the long haul, I find that not only do things get better over the long haul, but by extension also in my day-to-day life. By practicing mindfulness, I am better able not only to do those things which may improve my life, but also to become aware of how my life is improving (even if I don't know exactly how what I'm doing is improving it).

Best of all, adding good things to my life seems to have something of a snowball effect. As I become happier, I find I am better able to practice self-discipline in other areas as well, and doing that in turn makes things even better.

Now, I'm not saying that riding my bike and reading my Bible have made everything rosy and wonderful. I still get depressed, I still feel horrible sometimes, and I still get urges to do things that I shouldn't.

But my life is better. And this little fact shows me something important: life can get better. And not only can it get better, but what I do matters. The amount of hope that these two facts give me for an even better life in the future makes me feel... well, much better.

"Since I am afflicted and needy,
Let the Lord be mindful of me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
Do not delay, O my God."
Psalm 40:17

P.S.: thanks, Mom.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Fighting Poverty and War, One Designer T-shirt at a Time

There's been a recent trend of "socially conscious" businesses that specialize in marketing their overpriced wares by advertising that a "portion" of each of sale goes to charity.

One of those companies used this series of photos as part of their advertising:
This series of pictures says, "Multicultural friends! Buy our clothes! We give to Africans!"

So, if you'd like to buy a $40 t-shirt so that $2 will go to charity (instead of, say, buying a $15 t-shirt and just giving $25 to charity), these companies are there for you: to take your money, send you a shirt with a design that appears to have taken 5 minutes to make in Photoshop, and (probably) include a card/letter of some type with your order that thanks you for helping them to end civil war(s) in Africa.

Maybe the next big thing will be opening charity sweatshops in Africa: "Every time you buy from CrayFishDeSigns, you are helping to support the 5,000 African children that we keep off the streets and out of civil wars every day in the Democratic Republic of Congo!"

Sunday, July 3, 2011

William Blake

Although I don't think much of his poetry, I do enjoy the art of William Blake. Some favorites: