Nix the degree, get the education
August 3, 2008 6:30 AM   Subscribe

Free school options in New York?

After a series of interesting but often frustrating conversations with friends and recent grads saddled with student loans, I'm curious to know more about what options, if any, exist in New York City for those who want to keep on with higher education but can't afford it. I know most universities (including mine) often do active community outreach (free lectures, public forums and so forth), but I'm curious as to whether similar programs exist, if any, among community and advocacy organizations in the city. Analogous to something like Free Geek in Portland, but with a literary or humanistic bent, or the Columbia free school movement (which, as far as I can tell, doesn't exist anymore?). Stuff like that.

The kinds of groups I'm thinking of would probably do things like: free research workspace, seminar series, DIY workshops and reading groups, paired with some type of community-based literacy activism. Basically the model for the free school movement, but targeted toward adults.

Do these programs exist? I'm thinking mostly of literature / humanities groups, but it need not be field-specific.
posted by puckish to Education (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I have also come across the Henry George School of Social Science which offers a few economics courses, and The Brecht Forum, which offers low cost seminars (they also have a monthly subscription plan which will then allow you access to all seminars for no additional cost).
posted by effigy at 7:08 AM on August 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

MIT offers free courses online, might not be in your field though. I'm sure a lot of schools do.
Do you think that putting the commitment in meeting with other people in groups and doing research and attending lectures is really worth it when you will not really be able to use all this to further your career, the way you do with a degree?
And Grad school doesn't necessarily dump you into debt because there are teaching and research assistantships available for grad students,which pay for tuition and also a stipend.
My advice is to invest all this creative energy and your desire to learn towards a degree.
posted by spacefire at 7:23 AM on August 3, 2008

Response by poster: I'm currently enrolled in a Ph.D. program, and while there's no doubt in my mind that professionalization is essential, most of the people in the program also consider themselves to be public intellectuals and are pretty strongly invested in academic culture being democratized in some sense. For better or worse, there's a sense that the things we talk about in seminar should "matter" in the wider world - a notion that seems very much at odds with the funding structure of higher education, and the restrictions this places on who gets to attend these seminars in the first place. This is true, I think, even for fully funded graduate programs.

I'm mostly curious about replicating the structure academic "communities" rather than the logistics of pursuing a degree - whether the kinds of communities that tend to develop around university programs should be strictly professionalized, or whether they should be made available, in some marginal capacity, to people who don't have the time or resources to devote to full-time academic study. Access to information isn't really the issue - obviously people can read, use libraries, and attend public forums. Really, it's about methodology and discourse, and whether these are things that make sense to privatize.
posted by puckish at 8:24 AM on August 3, 2008

Response by poster: Just in case that helps to clarify the question
posted by puckish at 8:24 AM on August 3, 2008

Cooper Union is free, although you have to apply to get in.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:00 PM on August 3, 2008

One of the goals of the Catholic Worker movement is "Clarification of Thought". The Catholic Worker in New York City holds friday night meetings for this purpose. I've never been to one though, and haven't been impressed by the list of topics/presentations published in the "Catholic Worker".

Opus Dei offers two weekly lecture series for men on the Catholic Faith and on Catholic Church history. The history one is just like a college survey class, progressing chronologically and taught by an academic. (But no tests and papers.)
posted by J.R. Benedict at 1:41 PM on August 3, 2008

There are also a number of meetup groups which seem to have a serious academic bent (others seem to be more social with a gloss of academics).
posted by J.R. Benedict at 1:43 PM on August 3, 2008

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