People who wish to continue education but lack cash have options other than traditional college. Online courses offer the best variety of classes at no cost or low cost. However, live courses can be found for those who prefer a traditional educational format. Course credit varies by the type of course and the provider.
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Online Classes at VU
As of 2009, Virtual University, an online campus at www.vu.org, operates much the same as it did at its inception. VU is the Internet's oldest learning portal and a pioneer in web-based education. For a nominal registration fee, students may take up to four classes a term. Weekly online lessons are posted and available only to those registered, and students can mingle and ask questions in the virtual student cafe
Course offerings range from writing classes, self-help and general knowledge to computer applications. Volunteer instructors create courses and give homework assignments. Students post their completed assignments on a message board, where the instructor and classmates share feedback. Final exams are computer-based. Certificates of completion and transcripts are provided via e-mail.
MIT Open Courseware
The ambitious MIT Open Courseware Project was boon to learners worldwide when launched in 1999. The initiative made course content from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology available free online to anyone willing to access it. In 2009, with 1,900 courses available, programs include video/audio courses, and some translated into Chinese, Thai, Spanish, Portuguese and Persian. These can be found at the Open Courseware website, http://ocw.mit.edu.>
Universities jumped on the bandwagon with MIT to offer free courses, though methods vary. Universities and colleges worldwide publish some courses in the same manner as MIT, including Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, Utah State and Tufts. Current course work and older classes can be found directly on the schools' websites. While some information is password protected for enrolled students, much is now available for the public.
You can find a compendium of university courses in one place at World Lecture Hall: http://web.austin.utexas.edu/wlh/. This site provides links to courses previously taught in universities, community colleges and technical colleges. Just type in your topic and search for classes.
Low-cost live classes are available in the United States though county extension offices, which offer educational outreach programs as a public service. Often free, course topics include gardening and conservation, parenting, horse care and business basics. These vary by state and county. Consult the phonebook or a county directory for contact information on local county extension offices.
Community colleges provide regular classes at much cheaper rates per credit hour than universities. Also, continuing education classes on topics like pet care and crafts are popular.
Most free online courses won't award university credit, but it's sometimes possible to obtain credit by testing. For example, CLEP (College Level Examination Program) allows individuals to test for credit. Students must designate a college or university to receive credit, and if they fail they must pay to repeat the test. Colleges may charge to put the course on a transcript.
CLEP has 40 plus tests for college-equivalency courses, but not all are recognised by all schools. Several companies, such as istudysmart.com, offer test preparation materials for the CLEP.
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