Finally, Debt Free PhD’s & Degrees

Rebekkah Anderson
Jun 18 · 5 min read

While so many undergraduate students struggle with the idea of continuing their education, finances usually make the decision clear. Debt has been crippling to academia for decades, and now we find the first refreshing wave of affordable education. Let’s explore!

A Brief History

The Middle Ages gave us the pursuit of knowledge which in turn gave us critical thinkers, scientific advancements, contributions to art, philosophy, literature, and rhetoric. A booming passion for using our brains was driven by the rich, the royally funded, and the church. Fast forward to the pre-American Revolution and you see statesmen desiring their children to have a broad understanding of the world around them. England’s King George II even contributes to American education by helping to establish Columbia University. We have numerous universities founded, and thus the American pursuit of higher education submerged its roots.

Yet, it wasn’t until after World War II that the United States helped masses of Americans access higher education. To help returning veterans, the U.S.’s G.I. Bill of 1944 funded millions of Americans in finishing their high school educations, obtaining a G.E.D., going to technical college, or attending a university. The 1950’s was also the start of a teaching shift from character education to purely intellectual education. Being well rounded as a critical thinker, who has the space to develop ones’ values, was replaced by what is factual, less conversationally disputed, and valuable for life application in a changing work force. This streamlined curriculum into repeatable processes rather than open dialogues. College enrollment continued to progressively increase and was given a large bump after the economic crisis of 2008.

Source: https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2010/ted_20100428.htm?view_full

At this time, the chant of almost every Millennial’s parent was, “Go to college.” Millennials started to do just that (helicopter parent in tow). Thus ensued the frantic outcry of student debt climbing to $1.5 trillion and representing 44 million American students. Generation Z has already started looking for alternative routes to financial success because of it.

So what about those crippled by debt who still desire to pursue education? Do you just choose a master’s degree or a PhD program that will help you land a job to pay it off? As New York Times’s article writer Kevin Carey states:

Within the graduate school sector, the fast-growing master’s degree market is replete with debt levels that make little sense. An accredited university can essentially create a master’s degree in anything, set whatever price it likes, start signing up students for federal loans, and market the program as “accredited.”

Is accreditation even important at this point? Or is it feeding the mafia organization of debt? With Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications deciding to drop it all together and stating, “the process is “flawed” and not useful,” how do we actually decide what is a quality education? Well, if we see higher education through the streamlined teaching philosophy that the 1950’s gave us of factual information passed on with extrinsic motivation, formal education has been devalued by technology and is not worth the Google search.

However! If we see higher education as the place to cultivate one’s identity, values, and knowledge through learning of the world around us, then higher education is the nursery of tomorrow’s economic advancement. This will only be the case for the same classification of people as the Middle Ages if we cannot make it affordable (and have ethical admissions, unfortunately).

And Now, The Dream: Debt Free Education

How could this work? I contacted, Professor Christian Collins Winn of the Global Center for Advanced Studies (GCAS) to hear how they’re making debt free education a reality. GCAS is a startup community with the goal of offering an affordable, high quality, PhD program to students around the globe through their college. Currently, they have thirty PhD students in their program, are launching an undergraduate beta program in the fall of 2019, and have plans to create a master’s program in the near future.

When you first visit their website, you can tell their founder, Dr. Creston Davis, is a visionary. The layout of the homepage feels vaguely reminiscent to a Bob Dylan song made visual. GCAS hopes to make education affordable by having micro campuses called “nodes” across the globe.

“It’s the Philosophy root system,” Says Christian, “you create a decentralized network of nodes.”

Each of these nodes allows students access to professors via digital interaction, recorded lectures, live streamed seminars, and have direct access to their local node’s campus professors. Their current campus, GCAS College Dublin, is located in Ireland. Currently, all courses are held in English, but they do desire to have additional languages represented in the future.

This concept of a decentralized institution makes education more affordable. Students who desire an education under the guidance of astute professors can do so for approximately $5,000 a year.

Christian, being GCAS’s Theology Department Chair, did his own local cost comparison study on seminary schools for his home state of Minnesota, and found GCAS charges approximately $153 per credit hour, while other universities are charging $600 per credit hour.

“GCAS is perfect for pastors because it can go into funding for their continuing education budget.” He said enthusiastically.

Other departments of study such as English, Philosophy, Psychology, Crypto Economics, and Startup Studies are offered at GCAS and the college proudly boasts 100% of students receive financial aid. GCAS truly displays its commitment to students when discussing financing options:

GCAS College cannot guarantee that your tuition will be free, but if you work hard enough and are persistent, we will work with you to bring your tuition down as much as possible so you can be part of our global academic community.

Because the institution is still working on gaining accreditation in the European Union, any money a student pays for education can be cashed out for shares of the college upon graduation! GCAS has its own crypto currency built on block chain technology and plans to use it as an internal monetary bartering system to help students who work for the university pay for their education.

The organization’s founding was done so because Dr. Davis saw the writing on the wall for the humanities department of higher education. It appeared that many university’s were proposing a liberal education was spending money, “a bit too liberally.”

“In 2002, there was a sense that humanities were facing a crisis in universities. Because when you do humanities, it’s hard to translate why humanities is valuable.” Christian reminisced.

With Forbes, delivering a similar crisis verdict in a 2018 article titled, It’s Time To Worry When Colleges Erase Humanities Department, Dr. Davis was ahead of the curve. Cashing out his retirement in 2013 to launch GCAS with over 100 other leading intellectuals, Dr. Davis is fully invested in seeing the college succeed.

Now, with GCAS College Dublin making the vision reality, GCAS is working on developing nodes across the globe including Australia, Chile, United States, France, and China. In hearing about GCAS, it appears that saving humanities for the love of humanity isn’t a pipe dream and neither is debt free education.

Let’s keep the conversation going. If you know of a university that is trying to end the student debt epidemic, please leave a comment below!