Ultra Spectra

(Almost) Zero Cost Education | Online

Posted on: July 25, 2009

The average cost of yearly tuition at a private, four-year college in the US this year was $25,143, and for public schools, students could expect to pay $6,585 on average for the 2008-09 school year, according to the College Board. What that means is that for many people, college is out of reach financially. But what if social media tools would allow the cost of an education to drop nearly all the way down to zero?

Of course, quality education will always have costs involved — professors and other experts need to be compensated for their time and efforts. However, social media can drastically reduce much of the overhead involved with higher education — such as administrative costs and even the campus itself.

Here are few Online Institutions

1. The University of the People

The school is a one hundred percent online institution, and utilizes open source courseware and peer-to-peer learning to deliver information to students without charging tuition. There are some costs, however. Students must pay an application fee (though the idea is to accept everyone who applies that has a high school diploma and speaks English), and when they’re ready, students must pay to take tests, which they are required to pass in order to continue their education.

Right now, the University only teaches two courses, information technology and business administration.

2. A College Education for Free: OpenCourseWare

In April 2001 the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) proposed something unheard of in the pages of the New York Times. They said that they would begin putting their entire course catalog — some 2,000 courses — online, for free, over the course of an ambitious ten year initiative at the cost of up to $100 million.


Of course, OpenCourseWare isn’t free — or even cheap. Stanford estimates that the cost of putting courses online runs between $10,000 and $15,000 per course — and courses with video content cost twice that. However, beyond the initial outlay to get the courses created and put online, the price of delivering them to the public is only the cost of bandwidth, which is close to free.

3. A Redical Idea: Free Textbooks

The average cost of textbooks and supplies for a college student attending a four-year college in the US is $1,077. But what if textbooks were free? What if printed course materials were made open and available online at no charge? How would that change the game?


Flat World Knowledge, which offers free, CC-licensed textbooks and study materials, but charges a fee for paper copies. The Flat World Knowledge books are written by expert authors that have been vetted by the company and generally have advanced degrees, are professors, or have practical experience in their field. The books are licensed under the same permissive Creative Commons license as the OpenCourseWare materials.

Deriving Conclusion

The marginal cost of education is being driven toward zero due to social media and innovative approaches to online learning. That’s because the nature of information is such that it can be created once at cost and distributed and consumed over and over again for free.


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Ultra Spectra is a personal interest blog for publishing news articles, sharing interesting information or the research.

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