Big Breaks Without the Big Bucks

Want to take classes at the world’s most prestigious universities for free? Today, the average college student with a school loan graduates with around $30,000 in debt—so studying anywhere for free should sound appealing. In fact, elite institutions such as Harvard, MIT, and Stanford allow access to thousands of courses online. These Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) are available to anyone who can access the internet, from anywhere. More than 700 universities worldwide offer these courses, and 58 million students across the globe are currently enrolled.

While most of these online schools do not provide college credit, you can earn digital badges for as little as $50 that employers such as IBM and GE recognize. MOOC provider Udacity also offers help with job placement, while edX and FutureLearn provide details on how to use course credits to advance your career.

Students are learning relevant skills that give them a head start in hunting for a job. For example, Akshay Kulkarni struggled in high school and didn’t score well enough on college entrance exams to enter the program of his choice. Instead, he took MOOC classes from edX and learned SaaS using Ruby on Rails (a digital programming language). He aced an interview with Microsoft India and landed a position. But that’s not all: he took another MOOC class on entrepreneurship and started his own company specializing in Artificial Intelligence (AI).

MOOCs offer flexible, challenging classes to help students get ahead in the digital age. These free courses won’t lead to a cap and gown, but the virtual coursework can help individuals get started in the workforce or advance their careers without assuming crippling debt. Now that’s a welcome opportunity.