By Barry Walkman
Because education is the key to success in the information age, universal access to it is critical. The good news is that the search for education isn’t much of a search: it is literally everywhere.
Much of it is also free.
Search online and you will find free courses in almost anything you can imagine. The College of Charleston offers audits of its entire catalog of courses free to all adults over the age of 60. Courses may be in person, online or a hybrid. Trident Tech is finishing up a campaign offering more than 70 courses free to anyone who takes the initiative to enroll.
Online courses are free by the thousands. You can take a whole catalog of courses at Harvard at no cost online, classes like Introduction to Computer Science; Religion, Conflict and Peace; and Modern China’s Foundations.
Columbia University does the same, with multiple courses on the Civil War. At both universities, and dozens of others, the courses are self-paced and taught by eminent scholars.
Yoga, Real Estate Investing and an Electrician’s License
A quick search of free courses in the Lowcountry reveals no end to the opportunities. Yoga and other fitness courses abound. The hospitals offer health and wellness classes. Financial advisors give free seminars on retirement planning. The Charleston Fire Department offers free CPR courses every quarter. A quick look at one day’s listing included classes on clean marina certification, real estate investing for beginners, creative art classes for kids, a book writing and publishing master class and training in how to market and brand your business.
None of these courses lead to degrees, or even provide much beyond basic skills. But vocational courses are easy to find. Right now, almost anyone can a take free online program leading to an electrician’s license, or programs for an HVAC tech, auto mechanic, phlebotomy tech, medical assistant and medical billing and coding. Most of these lead to relatively modest paying jobs, but not all.
Multiple organizations offer free hands-on commercial drivers’ license training. The CDL license is required to drive a commercial vehicle.
Computer Coding Leads to Lucrative Jobs
Perhaps the most popular subject for free coursework is computer coding. The YWCA’s Y Girls Code program teaches teens the basics of coding in order to encourage under-represented women and minorities to enter the lucrative field.
SC Codes is a learning platform and coding community built to unlock careers in technology for South Carolinians. Supported by the SC Dept. of Commerce and Build Carolina in response to industry needs, it consists of coding courses and mentorship opportunities, workplace skills development and job placement.
SC Codes offers two learning pathways, each consisting of three self-paced online courses that together take an enrollee about 90 days to complete if they commit a couple of hours, a couple of days a week. This basic coding class generally leads to an apprenticeship or internship, where students can build a portfolio of projects that can earn a job.
The new Develop Carolina program is a more structured six-month fellowship that mixes two days-a-week of virtual classwork with three days in a paid internship at local software companies.
“There is such a need for talent in the state,” said Kaity Miller, program director at SC Codes & Develop Carolina. With literally thousands of junior and mid-level developer job openings and only hundreds of computer science graduates to go around, graduates of these programs invariably land jobs, with starting pay averaging around $80,000.
Anyone Can Learn to Code for Free
A differentiator for SC Codes and Develop Carolina is the provision of mentors – software developers who help learners and create a community that students can be part of.
Both programs appeal to a wide variety of learners, from high school graduates to career changers with bachelor’s degrees. They are contributing to the diversification of the male dominated field by enrolling roughly 50% women and 38% people of color, about 10 times the industry average.
“As a mom of young children, going back to school is not currently an option for me,” said Bethany Winston, an SC Codes graduate. “I am thankful for the opportunity that SC Codes provided to learn new technical skills for free in a flexible environment with the support of experienced programmers.”