Free College Education, Scale, and Analogies

Here’s something you probably never thought you’d see: a list of 100 colleges and universities where you can earn your degree without paying any tuition. Most of the programs on the list look legitimate. And yes, they all have some qualification criteria you must meet to get the free goods.

If open educational resources, open learning support, and open accreditation are just too hard, why not simply participate in one of these programs? After all, isn’t our ultimate goal to provide access to educational opportunity to those who go without?

Yes, but our goal is more than simply being free or inexpensive. For example, we need to remove entrance requirements, we need to provide rights to make local adaptations to the curriculum, etc. In short, we need to be able to scale open education to everyone. Even if there were no entrance requirements at all, 100 tuition-free universities will bless some people’s lives but will not address the larger problem. And the answer isn’t to build more free universities.

To borrow and adapt a analogy (originally a critique of AI) from Dreyfus, building universities to educate mankind is like trying to climb trees to get to the moon. Once you reach the top of a certain tree, you say to yourself, ‘this approach isn’t going to get me there… I need a radical new approach!’ So you climb down, find a different tree that looks taller, and begin climbing it. The trouble is, of course, no matter how many trees you find and climb, while each of them will get you slightly closer to the moon, none can actually get you there. You need to give up tree climbing and start developing space flight.

Another analogy I really love comes from Richard G. Scott. Speaking of the favorite Utah irrigation analogy of “getting the water all the way to the end of the row,” Elder Scott suggested that we should instead focus on getting it to rain.

What these analogies tell us about universal access to education is that we cannot simply scout out taller trees or increase the water pressure in our canals – we need to find completely different ways to approach the problem and abandon bankrupt techniques. And Elder Scott’s analogy reminds us that we should not hesitate to call on God for help – after all, these are His children whose lives we’re trying to bless.

6 thoughts on “Free College Education, Scale, and Analogies”

  1. Of course, all universities in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland etc are completely free – including for international students. Most courses are taught in our respective languages of course (they are beautiful, and well worth learning :), but there are graduate courses taught in English, and there are even a number of distance courses available (living costs in these countries are quite high).

    What’s sad to me, is that institutions in these countries, which do not need to compete to get students, which are completely free, and whose mission is to serve the greater population – have not been more at the forefront of the various open movements, which would seem to dovetail perfectly with what they are doing. Hopefully this is yet to come.


  2. If these are programs with limit spaces, filled through competition, then they are not in a practical sense free (and will favour people with the means to satisfy prior academic credentials).

  3. In response to Stian. Careful how you use the term “free”. As the economists say..”There is no such thing as a free lunch.” You are paying…most likely through your tax system.

  4. So how does one from the US go about getting a so called “free” education in one of these countries? I’m thinking about this. But housing and a job are also concerns if I actually am seriously considering doing this. I definitely need and want to further educate myself, but what is the housing and job market like in Finland and Denmark and Norway?

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