Recently, the province of Ontario made headlines when it announced it was starting a new pilot project which would bring free tuition to students whose parents made less than $50,000 per year.

Like with most stories, the devil is in the details. Essentially, this new program replaces an existing program that gave tax credits to every student who took post secondary education in Ontario. In fact, according to articles I read, this new program would actually net the province an additional ~$50 million in tax revenue per year.

On the plus side, we were treated to this picture from Premier Kathleen Wynne’s visit to a high school to announce said new program.

That's the most excited Kathleen Wynne has ever been about something shaped like that.

That’s the most excited Kathleen Wynne has ever been about something shaped like that.

NO I WON’T BE MATURE.

I don’t believe tuition cost is a real problem, at least in Canada. In the past, I’ve argued tuition should be more expensive, since there are still thousands of students each year who go to school and take stupid majors with zero long-term job prospects. If you want to take such a degree feel free, just be prepared to pay out the ass to do so.

How to get actual free education

Whenever the topic of education comes to mind, I always think of a certain scene in Good Will Hunting.

education-is-free

Here’s the full quote:

“See, the sad thing about a guy like you is, in 50 years you’re gonna start doin’ some thinkin’ on your own and you’re going to come up with the fact that there are two certainties in life: one, don’t do that, and two, you dropped 150 grand on a fuckin’ education you could have got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library.”

Things have changed since Matt Damon and Ben Affleck won approximately 63 Oscars for that movie. It’s actually become a hell of a lot easier to get a free education in 2016 than it ever was in 1997.

Everybody in tech praises the virtues of Khan Academy, a website you can use to learn the basics about computer programming, coding, computer science, and all sorts of other subjects. For those of you into finance, you can learn about micro and macro economics, entrepreneurship, or the basics of capital markets. All of this is free.

Coursera is even better. There are thousands of different courses there from top worldwide universities. Some cost money, but there are enough free courses to keep you busy for a very long time.

iTunes University is another. You can listen to all sorts of different courses from some of America’s top universities there — for free. iTunes tends to focus on the intro courses, but still. Listening to an intro course should be enough for someone to realize whether or not they have an interest in something.

If that’s not enough for you, just spend some time going down the rat hole that is Google about any subject under the sun. There are seemingly hundreds of different Youtube videos, podcasts, and blogs about anything you want to learn about.

And finally, any moron can get access to all the information you could ever want with a public library membership. They even have computers you can use for free, provided you get there before the homeless guy. If you’re a little technologically savvy, you can also uh, borrow books via file-sharing services.

It’s not very hard to get free education if you try. The only thing holding you back is your own ambition.

The problem with free education

There’s one big problem with free education though. You don’t get the associated degree.

You can take a million courses on Coursera. As part of taking (some) courses on there, you can even get certificates of completion. But there’s no degree from Coursera, nor will there ever be.

It’s going to be interesting as time goes on whether stuff like Coursera will be a plus or a minus on a resume. Sure, it shows that you have enough initiative to take courses in stuff you’re interested in. But as we stand now, there aren’t many employers who are going to give a crap that you’ve taken three economics classes through some online school.

Online universities have existed for a while now. Many of these schools are for-profit, especially in the U.S., which has led to them not getting a very good reputation. Certain degrees from these schools can actually be a hindrance as a worse case scenario. The University of Phoenix has pretty much became a punchline at this point.

Those of you who have read me for a while know I never went to college. I started working when I was 18 years old and never looked back. It worked out pretty well for me, but that was because I had a laser-like focus on becoming richer even back then.

But at the same time, I won’t deny the fact that college-educated folks do tend to earn more money than their less-educated brethren. I’ve also said in the past I’m not really anti-college, providing it’s used as a path to get to where you want to be. Taking a degree in something that interests you with zero job prospects probably isn’t smart. Taking engineering, computer science, education, health care, or a million other tangible vocations is a much better use of your time.

If the point is to learn about something, you have no excuse. It has never been easier or cheaper to learn about anything than it is today.

If the point is to leverage those skills into income, then you’ll probably have to bite the bullet and pay for training. The only real other solution is to use your free time to demonstrate knowledge in something. This can work provided you have the free time to put into the project, but for most people, it’s probably simpler to just pay the money to get specific training in whatever sector they’re interested in.

Tell everyone, yo!