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Courses Without Degrees

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Indeed, it’s now remarkable easy to construct a course such that the benefits (other than the degree) are pretty much non-exclusive. In my Defense Statecraft course, for example, anyone could participate on the blog and follow along with the syllabus. Were I not as lazy and shiftless as I am, I would already have posted PowerPoint slides for all the lectures that I’ve given thus far, as well as the weekly student presentations. In fact, it wouldn’t be so much of a hardship to record the lectures and discussions and have them available as podcasts. Texts are easily available from Amazon, although it might be difficult for someone without easy access to a college campus to get access to some of the online readings.

The problem, of course, is that without the discipline provided by a degree program, regular assignments, and a grade at the end, almost no one sticks with a semester long course. I have often, in my career, been asked for permission to sit in, and I’ve always said yes. I’d say that the fraction of people who actually follow through with attendance, much less the course reading, is less then 10%. Sticking with a class, even one that you have an interest in, is tough work, and all the formal requirements associated with enrollment have an important disciplining effect.

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