College Degrees Without Classroom Attendance

Alternatives to Conventional College Courses are Available

by David P. Hayes

Does it bother you that attending college takes you away from paid work for a long time?

Does it bother you that you are sucking upon the tax coffers to attend a state or local college?  (No matter how much tuition you pay, it likely is heavily subsidized.)

You do realize, don’t you, that once you have accepted a tax-subsidized education, you are morally obligated to the subsidization of the next generation?

Are the courses lousy?  Too few?  Poorly organized?  Taught by T.A.s who merely read from the book without truly understanding it?

Are you troubled that unmotivated, biased, prejudiced or lecherous professors can enjoy permanent employment as long as sheepish students such as yourself continue to fill the classrooms?

Would you rather learn at a pace and by methods determined by you to be the best for you?

THERE IS A SOLUTION.  I’m not suggesting you do anything I haven’t already done myself.  DON’T THINK THIS IS AN AD: I have no financial stake in the education path I outline in this paper.  (As you’ll soon see, it costs so little, there would be little room for a kickback!)

Lest you think otherwise, the colleges discussed and recommended herein are ACCREDITED, with one exception duly noted.


Okay, we all should know that today’s colleges are not what they should be cracked up to be.  When top-rated universities are giving courses in “Soap Operas as Gender Role Models,” “Witchcraft, Sorcery and Magic,” and “Mathematics for the Environment,” they betray their defense that they can justify the tax subsidies by the preparation the courses lay for careers.

A student who spends his four years reading centuries-renowned texts may never have the opportunity to meet someone who does the same.

I wasn’t willing to be a hypocrite, a leech or someone who’d fool himself into believing that the many years of study and thousands of dollars of tuition would confer high value on a diploma. Inasmuch as a liberal arts degree is not worth what many in society claim it is, I opted to earn mine for the low cost which corresponds with the low value.

(I deliberately delimit to “liberal arts degree” because science degrees -- particularly medical ones -- do confer value.)

I earned my bachelors degree from one of the several that permit a degree to be earned entirely through nontraditional means: Thomas Edison State College of Trenton, NJ. I have never, even now, set foot in the state of New Jersey, let alone on the campus of that college. All submission of homework, approval of course plans, and reporting of test results were handled through the mail. On a very few occasions I placed a phone call to the college to get quick approval of a course I proposed to add to those I was pursuing. Mostly though, when I sought approval for a newly-offered course, I would make hand-written amendments on the most recent copy of my course plan sent to me by the college, after which I sent the marked sheet to my advisor, and then devoted my study time to other subjects until the replacement version of the study plan reached me, which invariable was within two weeks.

Thus, I know the benefits and feasibility of students earning college diplomas by their own, solitary study and without setting foot in a college classroom. I earned 2½ years of college credit during a 2¾-year period during which I worked a job the entire time (part-time for ten months, full-time the remaining 23 months) and never visited a college campus except to take proctored exams or to use the libraries.

The questions that my reader has of me now are probably those I had when I first contemplated the options that I took. Those questions were:

The answer to each of these questions require a short section of this web page all its own; you’ll reach the answers most quickly through the links. For now, I turn attention to one more question:

For me, the answer was Yes, for these reasons:

Classes never became closed to me because of the body-counts filling the limited number of seats before my turn at enrollment, and course-work was not spread over more or fewer weeks than I found best for my study abilities and rate of absorption of the material. Typically, I did have to finish a homework-containing course (of which I enrolled in few) within nine months, but given that two months was more typical of my time requirements, this restriction did not faze me, and I was better off than in conventional education, wherein I would have had to endure difficulties should I not have understood previous material when the time had come to be presented some overriding concepts to go atop the fuzzy-to-me ones not truly learned by me in a subsequent lecture.

I chose almost all of the 21 courses I would have to take before I ever officially began in the program. A few new courses which I deemed better for me than those I had originally chosen, became available during my 2¾ years of course-work, so I made substitutions. A very few courses were withdrawn from availability during the time I was enrolled, but there were always several months advanced notice before the terminations became effective, so I had sufficient opportunity to take these exams before they were permanently withdrawn.

Fees paid by me, to the best of my knowledge, covered the costs of providing the exams, exams which typically set me back $45-$60, and never more than $140. (I exclude here the higher price I paid for each of two state-university-operated mail-order courses which each had two proctored exams. Full cost information will be detailed in a subsequent section. For now, be aware that these two more-expensive courses were optional, there having been cheaper alternatives.) If taxpayer money subsidized any part of my earning these credits, it was likely not much. Contrast this to the $10,000 per year of state money that typically supplements the $4,000 a year paid in tuition by college students at state colleges. I gloried in knowing that I was not emptying the pockets of my fellow citizens, let alone not doing it to prop up and perpetuate a corrupt system of mis-education and tenured employment of the lowest ranks of the conceptually incompetent.

     Testing organizations:

Regents College Proficiency Examination Program (formerly American College Testing’s PEP)

College-Level Examination Program

College Board Online (search at site for: “Advanced Placement Program”)

Thomas Edison College Examination Program

Microsoft Certification Home Page

     Colleges offering Low-Cost Credit-Banking Programs:

Regents College DistanceLearn program (Regents College has also been known as the University of the State of New York, a pioneer in non- traditional education.)

University of Missouri Center for Independent Study / Distance Education Program

Thomas Edison College Examination Program

California State University, Dominguez Hills

     Links to Groups of Other Links

Handilinks to Distance Learning

Microsoft Certification Links

Microsoft Certification Exam Resource Page


In the previous section, I wrote of accredited colleges awarding academic credits for the passing of exams offered by these colleges, other colleges, and independent testing organizations, and that these examinations were proctored to assure verity of the results.

One of the general principles of this method of pursuing a degree is that if a student can pass the final examination of a course, there’s little reason to hold it against him that he neither attended classes nor submitted homework.  Several academic organizations put this theory into reality by offering exams which, if passed, colleges will accept just as readily as transferred courses when awarding course credit.  (Organizations and programs offering exams include American College Testing Proficiency Examination Program, DANTES Subject Standardized Tests, College Level Examination Program, and Thomas Edison College Examination Program.)

How much did these exams cost to take?  A substantial number of them had total fees payable to the university or organization of $45, and of those that didn’t, the majority of those cost me $60. For three I took which entailed essay answers rather than multiple-choice responses, the fee for each was $140.  On each of two course I took which had eight homework assignments (which took the form of multiple-choice questions answered on a scantron sheet), a proctored midterm and a proctored final exam, I spent about $200.  (These amounts do not include monies spent on textbooks, nor of local proctoring, both of which I’ll have more to say later.)  These latter were the most expensive of the courses, and had it not been that these were in subjects highly desirable to me and which were not offered elsewhere (“Cognitive Psychology” and “Perception”), I would have taken advantage of more of the many $45 exams available to me.

Thumb prints were taken of me when I arrived to take some of the tests.  At these tests and at others, I provided and left behind (as required) photograph of myself; the proctor with whom I signed in would compare the photograph to me to make sure that the photograph was of the same person standing before him. (Given that the photo departments of major drugstore chains offer 15 reprints for $2.59, it was not at all expensive to leave behind a permanent image of the exam-taker seen by the proctors at the test site.)  I contend that I could more incontrovertibly assert that I did not use ringers than could be claimed by some students who take exams in the large auditoriums at conventional universities.

Two of the testing organizations I used which were not affiliated with a university, provided proctoring as part of the examination fees; in these cases, the proctoring was offered only at a date and time prescribed by the testing organization; such organizations kept their costs low by having many students taking a variety of exams in one room under the watchful eyes of two testing administrators.  (Intelligently, the administrators worked out ahead of time a seating arrangement for the students that would ensure that students would be seated near only students taking exams in different subjects.)  Typically, test dates were limited to one day per month per location; locations were sufficiently plentiful, there having been three alone in Los Angeles County.

Amounts paid by me to Thomas Edison State College did not include fees for proctoring should the exams be taken outside the state of New Jersey or within New Jersey on dates not set by the College for group testing.  Thomas Edison State College provides proctoring at no additional charge to its students at its four sites in New Jersey at a few scheduled sessions each month.  For someone residing in California such as I was, it was practical that I sought proctoring services local to me.  One community college provided proctoring for $10 per test at times when an otherwise-empty office room was available and an administrator knew that during the test hours she would be in the vicinity (to look in on me at irregular intervals).  Once a change in the job duties at that college led to the end of that option, I made arrangements with another college (Calif. State Univ. Northridge) which offered proctoring for $15 an hour (charging only for time used, not the maximum time permitted) at almost any time during normal business hours, subject only to blackout dates during periods when the college could expect their enrolled students to schedule substantial numbers of exams.


Exams detached from college courses are not as full-fledged course; there aren’t as many subjects offered to students who won’t be attending on campus.  The testing organizations named by me in my previous installment collectively offer exams in hundreds of topics, yet this number of subjects is minuscule compared to the number of college courses available.  Even after eliminating the many junk and anti-conceptual-by-premise courses offered on campuses, there are valuable subjects for which equivalency-credits-earning methods are desirable and yet are not offered by the testing organizations.  Fortunately, students can nonetheless earn academic credits for these subjects without attending on campus.

The solution is to do something other than take exams or attend a college campus.  It’s called “Portfolio Assessment.”

Thomas Edison State College offers a wonderful service that permits its enrolled non-traditional students to earn credit in nearly any subject for which credit could be earned anywhere by conventional means.  Called “Portfolio Assessment,” this program enables students to submit proof that a given subject is offered for college credit at an accredited college anywhere in the United States.  A photocopy of a page from a college course catalog, accompanied by its citation, suffices to make this claim (subject to confirmation by the university).  The student then offers to submit proof that he has mastered the material that would be taught in a course of that time-frame; an airplane-pilot’s license proves that one has mastered the course-work of a flying class, for example.  Microsoft certification substantiates a claim of mastering an aspect of computer programming.  For subjects on which proficiency is not be measured by recognized means, the college permits the student to submit a project and to make himself available for a verbal test.  Phone exams can be scheduled so as to spare students from visiting a distant campus; proctors at schools local to the student can be visited by the student for the phone exam, and the proctor can attest to the identity of the student in the same manner as they do for equivalency exams and they can watch that no notes or inappropriate memory aides are used.

Portfolio Assessment projects, which might be more easily called “equivalency projects,” may take the form of terms papers or something else.  A computer program written by the student might prove ideal for illustrating the student’s mastery of computer programming.  For myself, on some subjects, I submitted multi-layered time-lines, comparison tables, or schematic charts as I often found these far more conducive to my education than would have been a conventional prose composition.

Portfolio Assessment in two ways multiplied the number of courses for which I could earn distance-learning credit: a) it provided the opportunity to earn credit in core courses for which ready-made exams had not been prepared for non-classroom learners, and b) it opened up to me the full range of courses offered at hundreds (if not thousands) of colleges, rather than limiting me to the offerings of just one college, the number of courses of which would be limited regardless of the size of the college.

This first provision enabled me to earn equivalency credit for “Logic” even though Thomas Edison State College (nor any of the large testing organizations) did not offer the subject as an equivalency exam.  However, inasmuch as Thomas Edison State College did have one or more professors who taught a standard Logic course in a conventional classroom setting, it was possible for such a professor to examine my submissions to determine whether I had learned the material that I would have learned in a classroom course.  To earn credit for subjects for which Thomas Edison did not offer courses and did not have a resident expert among their faculty, the college allows students to propose their own accredited expert and to allow the student to approach that expert on behalf of the program.

The second provision named above (“Portfolio Assessment multiplied the number of courses for which I could earn distance-learning credit … [by] open[ing] up to me the full range of courses offered at hundreds of colleges, rather than limiting me to the offerings of just one college”) made it possible for me to earn credit in “Cognitive Psychology” and “Perception”--courses that proved to be all too rare in college catalogs despite (or possibly because of) the rationality and value represented by these courses.

To become a nontraditional-learning student of Thomas Edison State College requires being accepted by the admissions office as such a student (which entails a modest fee) and payment of annual fees of roughly $900.  (Residents of New Jersey pay somewhat less.  There are a few other categories for which reduced fees are set, e.g., military veterans.)


This section concerns: the advantages and adjustments of a student who does his learning somewhere other than in classrooms.

In pursuing a degree by independent study, I did not have to put up with professors who merely recited what I had already read in the textbook, who misunderstood what was stated in the textbook, who pretended to understand student questions before providing non-answer responses with the pretense of authority.  What’s more, I was spared having to experience an overwhelming compulsion to correct the teacher for the benefit of the other students while fearing professorial reprisal -- or to ridicule the points made by the lecturer in the hope that the teacher and other students would see an alternative without my being unwelcomely clear when I had a precisely-formulated opposing view.

People often ask what kind of life one subjects himself to by pursuing his education in this way.  For me, it meant learning while making a living.  By tape-recording my notes, I could listen to my study materials while performing a job that could be done simultaneously with listening.  When I found that I had learned most of the material on a tape, I would reach for a hand-held cassette recorder I kept nearby and would speak into it those few facts not yet learned as the first tape reached those points.  The new, shorter tape then would take the place of the old in my listening.

(Among jobs that lend themselves to cassette-listening without impairment of work performance: driving an automobile as part of a messenger’s job, cleaning, manufacturing, fisheries, and photo-processing.  Those adventuresome and willing to leave a populated area might try prospecting for gold.)

Some say that a student misses a vital part of the college experience by not being among other students who are pursuing the same courses.  If there could be any validity to that claim, the other students would have to offer an appropriate, educational value.  Such might be found: fellow students whose contributions to a conversation would elucidate rather than render the class into a bull session.  Still, isn’t it outrageously expensive to meet them through payment of thousands of dollar in tuition (which goes to faculty, not the students who allegedly provide this value), when -- if non-traditional methods of obtaining an education were better known -- these people could meet one another through local internet announcements of the classified-ads sort, or through newspaper ads classified as “Groups Forming.”  The major Los Angeles daily paper has in its classifieds, within the personals ads, a subcategory for “Groups Forming,” whereby those responding pay $1.29 a minute to leave recorded messages asking the group originator to inform them of date, time and place.  Unofficial classrooms could be formed in this manner.

I did not waste time commuting to and from a campus, then to the classrooms, and I did not have to toy with living in one of the expensive, cramped, noisy apartments commonly found near college campuses, subjected to the blasted heavy-metal rock and drunkenness prevalent in those neighborhoods.

Another concern of many students and their parents: the caliber of the college granting the diploma.  “Ivy league” is still considered more prestigious than non-“Ivy.”  On this score, students should realize that the academic credit granted by Thomas Edison State College (and other colleges offering the same services) on its transcripts is indistinguishable from that for traditional courses.  Students wanting the diploma of a traditional, prestigious university for which he is qualified may make preparations to enroll in said school for the student’s final year or semester, earning freshman-through-junior level credit through less-expensive means.  The success of such plans will be contingent upon the student being acceptable to the university as a late transfer, the university’s limits on accepting more than a particular number of upperclassmen transfers, and the possible concern by traditional colleges that were such transfers were to become too commonplace that they would suffer in the form of fewer applications from potential freshmen.  Students planning to transfer schools should ask questions of the schools to which they plan to apply in subsequent years.


Some people insist that homework is vital to learning.  It can be, I concede, but the key word is “can.”  Each student comprehends at different rates, and even within a given student, the speed of grasping new concepts can vary by subject or by day.  I gauged myself to set my study load.  Homework and projects were done as plentifully or as scarcely as I considered necessary for my learning.  When my hand-made flashcards had been of tremendous aid in my learning the material, I opted to not exert effort on prose compositions, graphs, concept maps, or more elaborate projects.  If I caught myself weak in some areas--if I could not answer the questions in the chapter review of a textbook--I assigned myself to make a chart, table, or whatever was appropriate.

The same textbooks available to regular college students can be bought by students who study without college classroom attendance.  What’s more, the textbooks recommended by testing organizations and by Thomas Edison can often be found in the libraries of colleges that assign comparable but different textbooks to their students in commensurate classes.  One needn’t be enrolled in colleges near one’s home to use the facilities or even to borrow books.  The University of California system offered me a one-year non-U.C.-student library card, entitling me to borrow books, for $72.  Better still, they provide free borrowing privileges to alumni-association members, and inasmuch as one needn’t to have graduated or even attended a U.C. to be eligible for membership, and with alumni association membership selling for $45 a year, that was the better buy.

Thomas Edison State College is on the net at  When last I visited their site, they had general information about their programs, but for specific information about courses offered they referred interested parties to their print catalog, which they sell for $15.

My working while pursuing a degree had a reward: unlike most college students, I graduated school with more money in the bank than I had when I started.


Bear’s Guide to Earning College Degrees Nontraditionally.  Superb book on distance learning, published in updated editions for 20+ years, and an invaluable resource for this student.  The web site offers excepts.  The section on diploma mills is very funny.

Thomas Edison State College

University of the State of New York -- long-time provider of nontraditional means of earning accredited college degrees, now calling itself Regents College

Lyceum International -- unaccredited at the time of this writing, this organization is nonetheless worthy for several reasons: 1) its faculty also teach elsewhere and thus deliver the caliber of an accredited college; this fact might help sway the officials of other colleges to grant academic credit for the successful completion of a Lyceum course; 2) Lyceum is committed to presenting material subjected to the rigors of reason; relativism is disdained, logic is upheld, productivity is applauded.

Proficiency Examination Program (formerly administered by American College Testing, now by Regents College)

University of Missouri

The present author’s comments on two University of Missouri courses

A word to Objectivists

Sources on Today’s Intellectual Atmosphere -- why did I refer to today’s educators as the “lowest ranks of the conceptually incompetent”?  Find out from these links to superb commentary from those who have worked decades in the “college trenches.”

         And for students of literature, here’s a resource devoted to full texts of the standard repertoire of the past:

Project Gutenberg -- a one-stop source for writings on which copyright has expired

To contact author David P. Hayes by email, type this address (with no spaces) in your email program:

To contact author David P. Hayes by
email, please bear with his spam-deterrent procedures:
1. Begin with this part of the userid: author's initials 'dh';
2. add the number '7' after those two letters;
3. follow this number with these randomly chosen characters: 'n4r';
4. add the usual atsign to separate userid from domain;
5. put in domain name: davidhayes;
6. act upon the knowledge that this domain ends in '.net'
rather than '.com'.  Don't use:

Entire contents © 1998 David P. Hayes