edX Courses for Credit

98320004Here’s an interesting new take on mixing credentials with MOOC-style education: Arizona State University through edX is starting to offer for-credit undergraduate courses online.

These courses are available for anyone to take free of charge, but upon successfully completing the course, students who started off with the $45 “verified student identity” have the option to be granted formal credit for the course, at a cost of $200 per credit hour.

At a total cost of $845 for a 4-hour course, this might still not be a viable option for everyone to pay for a whole degree out of pocket, but it seems like an especially enticing path for busy full-time employees of corporations that offer tuition reimbursement. Such reimbursement requires successful completion of the course, or otherwise the employee gets stuck with the bill personally. With this new ASU/edX approach, the employee would pay at most $45 if ever-fluctuating personal and/or job responsibilities make passing the course less plausible than it appeared when signing up for it…

The Benefits of Dropping Out

John Harvard statueThere’s an infographic floating around the business news blogosphere proclaiming that nearly one-third of all billionaires dropped out of college, showing the percentage of billionaires with degrees in various categories, including the largest category, none. The implication seems to be that the path of study most likely to lead to billionaire-level wealth is to leave school.

Of course, the obvious flip-side is that while one-third of billionaires hold no degree, two-thirds of billionaires do hold a degree. Obviously the best path toward being a billionaire is to finish college with a degree in something!

But the traditional college path in life has been criticized a lot recently, and perhaps rightly so. Costs continue to get higher — my own alma mater increased tuition by approximately 50% since I graduated, with only about half of that accounted for by inflation — and opportunities for success without a degree seem ever more abundant. Going into business for yourself on the internet, with minimal cost and no formal prerequisites, is a very real option today that was harder ten years ago, and much harder twenty years ago. And if you want the education that ostensibly goes along with obtaining a degree, there are numerous free and low-cost options for self-study that exist today. (Along with some options that have existed for centuries…)

Still, presenting the notion of dropping out of college as a path toward success seems dubious. Rather than asking, what percentage of billionaires are college dropouts, maybe we should ask, what percentage of college dropouts are billionaires? I haven’t yet found statistics on that, but Wikipedia has a nice overview of high school dropouts, suggesting that

  • high school dropouts are more likely to be unemployed than high school graduates
  • lifetime earnings of dropouts are on average $260,000 USD less than graduates
  • two-thirds of U.S. prison inmates are high school dropouts
  • a third of high school dropouts live in areas of poverty
  • high school dropouts have a shorter average life expectancy than graduates

And just as with college dropouts, there are counterexamples of successful high school dropouts, prominently including Walt Disney.

Statistical data pertaining to high school dropouts does not necessarily apply to college dropouts, but I suspect that the general message carries over: dropping out of school per se does not lead to success, neither for a 17-year-old high school student nor for an 18-year-old college student. What can lead a dropout to success, though, is doing something else productive with their time. And the same goes for graduates, who could easily choose to live a life of unproductive sloth after they finish school.

GNU Guile on OS X via MacPorts

201405-port-washington-10.jpgDespite having good success building other GNU packages, I have tried unsuccessfully for years to compile GNU Guile v2 for Mac OS X. Perhaps just as well, since OS X is proprietary software, but nevertheless, I wanted to get it running.

One blogger has written extensively about building Guile v2 on OS X, and following those directions helped move me along quite a bit. But ultimately I gave up when the compilation process failed to find GNU Readline, because the LLVM clang C compiler on OS X (masquerading as the GNU C compiler) was using some pseudo-Readline library provided by OS X instead of the real GNU Readline library. This problem, too, may well be surmountable, but I had had enough.

I installed MacPorts and ran its installation utility to get GNU Guile 2.0.11. MacPorts chugged away for a while; I went out to dinner, and when I came back, Guile 2.0.11 was installed on the OS X system. Hooray!

Delighted, I headed back to the MacPorts website to donate money to their project; after all, I had surely burnt up hours of my own time fiddling with this, to no avail, and MacPorts solved the problem for me while I was eating vegetable stir fry. Alas, I could find no link on the site for making donations, so I will just publicly recommend them instead.

If you run into a similar problem, try using MacPorts — preferably sooner than I did!