A University Degree for 3,120€?

I like to think about learning. Not only about academic subjects but areas like skill acquisition and the whole discourse around intense focus, deliberate practice, and talent development. A lot of people feel that the academic phase of one’s life should take place during youth, and when it comes to skills like sports or music, many believe its development must also begin very early in life. There is certainly a lot to support that argument, but it’s never too late to at least try, and I can attest to the value of making your best effort. Besides, if you think to yourself, “well, I’ll be forty something by the time I get anywhere or finish” you’ll be forty something anyway, so why not go for it.

I never went to college in the USA. My grades during high school where terrible, so my options where limited and like most teenagers, had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and with college tuition in the USA being so expensive; I never seriously considered going. By most standards, it wasn’t until quite late in life that I started working on a university education, and in 2018 I earned a degree in sport & exercise science, followed immediately by an MBA, and I am now in my third year in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in English literature and philology at UNED – the largest university in Spain – the acronym stands for Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia.

Spain has some excellent academic offerings and according to topuniversities.com there are a total of 76 universities in Spain, 45 of which are run and funded by the state, while 31 are private or run by the Catholic Church. 25 Spanish universities are featured in the QS World University Rankings 2019, of which 13 are within the global top 500. Although, I don’t know if being in the top 500 of anything is much to brag about but what really sets Spain’s higher learning opportunities apart from the USA are the prices. Students at Spain’s public universities won’t go into debt because tuition simply isn’t high enough to warrant a bank loan.

UNED was founded in 1972 and although it is primarily distance education, the distance aspect is often optional, which is to say that students may attend face to face classes. Not all subjects offer classroom tutorials, but with the development of technology, students may now attend live classes online with most gatherings taking place on Microsoft teams.

UNED offers undergraduate degrees in humanities, sciences, and business, an extensive catalogue of masters, as well as numerous doctorates. What differentiates UNED and most public universities in Spain are the quasi-socialist benefits. Studying at UNED is cheap; and I mean really cheap. The degree I’m earning costs 13€ per credit and a four-year degree is 240 credits therefore, not including any books, and if you can pass everything on the first go, you’ll only have to invest 3.120€.

The least expensive college in the USA will cost you around $100,000.

UNED is no Harvard; that’s for sure and doesn’t have much prestige outside of Spain as far as I can tell. There are no star professors or in-resident brainiacs from afar. UNED is a straightforward learning institute of grey walls and non-descript buildings with no frills – a very utilitarian affair. Universities in Spain don’t field sports teams or construct multimillion dollar instillations or world class labs; there are no water parks and no mega cafeterias. Alumni don’t make donations nor is there much brand recognition among Spanish public universities; you’ll rarely see people sporting a sweatshirt and ballcap with the emblems of their alma mater and no one goes to class reunions. On occasion, graduation ceremonies will have a renowned speaker at commencement, usually someone Spanish, but not of the same caliber we see at Harvard or Yale.

I never understood my father’s old college loyalty. He got a business degree from Lehigh and stayed connected with alumni services and would put on his Lehigh garb once a year and parade around the campus with a bunch of old folks to show his support for a place that took his money and time and in return gave him something that I suppose he couldn’t have earned anywhere else. But that is the mystic of big colleges and the ivy league in the USA; students and alumni have invested important years of their lives at the institution and have made some kind of emotional attachment to the old stomping ground. The tradition is not completely lost on me, I get it on some level. You make friends at college, party a lot and probably have a lot of sex and lose control so I guess it’s something worth being grateful for.

But alas, times have changed. With technological development, there really is no need to go sit down in front of someone in order to learn. The lecture halls and classrooms have a lot going for them of course, there is more immediate engagement and debate among the students and teachers face to face, but if you learn online, you can really maximize your time – and you don’t even have to wear pants.

And thanks to this modern time saving tech, we can learn more and faster but first we have to believe it is worth it; worth our effort, time, and money, but in the end; getting educated and learning can never be a bad investment.

Year ago, research was performed by a group of cognitive psychologists asking people on their deathbeds if there is anything they regret when they look back on their lives. Imagine that moment, when a person knows the end is near; someone close to death is probably going to be sincere. As one can imagine, lots of people had regrets about all sorts of things but there was one thing that rose above all other regrets – they regretted that they didn’t try – whatever that thing was, whether it was moving abroad, putting themselves on the line as a writer, hitting the stage as an actor, trying their hand as an artist, or starting a business or whatever it was…

they died not knowing if they would have ever been good at it; they died not knowing if they had the goods and they died not knowing if they would have been happier.

In the end, you probably won’t regret something you did as much as something you never had the courage to try.

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