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6 Tuition-Free Colleges

The cost of higher education leaves many students wondering if they can afford to go to college. For those who want to avoid being saddled with huge student loan debt, here are six schools that offer tuition-free educations (besides the military academies).

1. College of the Ozarks

Several schools share the "Linebacker U" and "Quarterback U" monikers in reference to the NFL talent that their college football programs produce, but the only "Hard Work U" is located in Point Lookout, Missouri. In 1973, a Wall Street Journal reporter bestowed that title on the College of the Ozarks, where students pay no tuition and work at least 15 hours a week at a campus work station. Jobs are taken seriously at the school of 1,400; students are graded on their work performance in addition to their academics.

History: In 1906, Presbyterian missionary James Forsythe helped open the School of the Ozarks to provide a Christian high school education to children in the Ozarks region, which spans parts of Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. The school added a two-year junior college 50 years later and completed its transition to a four-year college program in 1965. The school was renamed College of the Ozarks in 1990 and has established itself as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the Midwest.

Notable: College of the Ozarks was No. 6 on the Princeton Review's list of the top 10 Stone-Cold Sober schools in 2014.

Famous Alum: Actress and model April Scott, who played Daisy Duke in the straight-to-DVD prequel Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning. Scott has also appeared in Entourage, as a briefcase-toting model on Deal or No Deal, on various magazine covers, and as the host of Model Turned Superstar.

How to Spend the Money Saved on Tuition: Silver Dollar City, an amusement park in nearby Branson, Mo., harkens back to simpler times with its 1880s theme. In addition to featuring craftsmen tents, the roller coasters at the park offer scenic views of the Ozarks.

2. Deep Springs College

Deep Springs is a two-year, all-male liberal arts college located on a cattle ranch and alfalfa farm in the Inyo-White Mountains of California's High Desert. To get an idea of just how isolated the school is, consider the explanation for its policy forbidding smoking in any of the school's buildings or near hay bales: "We're 45 minutes from the nearest emergency services, so a fire could be disastrous." Every student admitted—10 to 15 per year—receives free tuition, room, and board, and works at least 20 hours a week on the ranch. The manual labor ranges from washing dishes to milking cows. Most students complete their degrees at prestigious four-year schools after leaving Deep Springs.

History: Deep Springs was founded by Lucien Lucius Nunn, a pioneer in electrical engineering who helped design the Ontario Power Plant at Niagara Falls. While working for the Telluride Power Company, which provided power to gold mines, Nunn invited young men to work for him in exchange for an education. The work-study program became known as the Telluride Institute in 1905. Nunn was driven out of the company in 1912 by a powerful stockholder who believed Nunn's unconventional means of attracting workers was detrimental to the business. Nunn decided to start a completely new educational endeavor at Deep Springs, which admitted its first class of 20 in 1917.

Notable: Academics, labor, and self-governance are the three pillars of the Deep Springs experience. Students have a say in what subjects to study, what professors to hire, and even what applicants to admit.

Famous Alum: William T. Vollmann, a novelist and journalist with a propensity for writing about dangerous firsthand experiences, including a trip into Afghanistan with the mujahideen in 1982. Vollmann has written more than 20 books, including Europe Central, which won the 2005 National Book Award for Fiction.

How to Spend the Money Saved on Tuition: Given that students are generally prohibited from leaving the ranch during the semester, online shopping via the somewhat reliable Internet connection is one of the only viable options.

3. Berea College

Thanks to a large endowment, every student admitted to Berea College in Kentucky receives a full-tuition scholarship valued at more than $90,000. Students are required to work at least 10 hours a week in one of more than 140 departments, and while room, board, and books are not covered, the work-study program enables some of the 1,500 students to lighten their financial load even more. Berea offers degrees in 28 fields.

History: Berea was founded in 1855 by Rev. John Fee—an ironic name for the founder of a tuition-free college if there ever was one—as the first interracial and coed college in the South. Classes at the school were fully integrated until the Kentucky Legislature passed a law in 1904 that prohibited school integration. The law was amended in 1950 to allow integrated education above the high school level and Berea returned to its roots, becoming the first school in Kentucky to re-open its doors to African-Americans.

Notable: Berea's motto is "God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth."

Famous Alum: Carter G. Woodson, an African-American historian, journalist, and author. After graduating with a Bachelor of Literature degree from Berea, Woodson earned his PhD and taught at Howard University. He pioneered the celebration of "Negro History Week" in 1926, which would serve as the precursor to "Black History Month" as we know it today.

How to Spend the Money Saved on Tuition: Berea is home to the Kentucky Artisan Center, a 25,000-square-foot facility that showcases Kentucky-made arts and crafts in a variety of exhibits.

4. Olin College of Engineering

Olin College is a school of 300 in Needham, Mass., where every admitted student receives four years of free tuition valued at $130,000. The school is funded by a $400 million grant from the F.W. Olin Foundation and ranks as one of the top undergraduate engineering programs in the country. There is great emphasis placed on philanthropy at Olin; students are encouraged to develop creative ideas that address societal needs and help make the world a better place.

History: The school is named for Franklin W. Olin, who founded the Olin Corporation and made a fortune selling ammunition. Olin was a great philanthropist, too. Since 1938, the F.W. Olin Foundation has contributed more than $300 million in grants to colleges and universities throughout the country. The same foundation financed the development of Olin College, which was completed in 2002. The school graduated its first class in 2006.

Notable: Indicative of the entrepreneurial spirit of the school, six Olin students are taking a year off to develop educational Internet software—think Google Docs meets Facebook—for local middle school students. The students expect the software, which will include built-in features that allow parents and teachers to interact with and monitor their students' work, to be operational by mid-April.

How to Spend the Money Saved on Tuition: Honor the legacy of F.W. Olin, who played two years of professional baseball after graduating from Cornell, with a trip to Fenway Park in nearby Boston.

5. Curtis Institute of Music

Like Juilliard, the Curtis Institute of Music is considered one of the most prestigious performing arts conservatories in the world. Unlike Juilliard, tuition at Curtis is free. Every student admitted to the school of 160 in Philadelphia is provided a full scholarship, and all piano, harpsichord, composition, and conducting majors are lent Steinway grand pianos. As part of their training, students at Curtis host over 100 public concerts each year, and receive one-on-one instruction from the musically accomplished faculty.

History: Mary Louise Curtis Bok founded the Curtis Institute in 1924 as a place for talented young performers to prepare for careers as professional musicians. She named the school in honor of her father, Cyrus Curtis, the founder of Ladies' Home Journal and a fellow music lover.

Notable: According to the school's website, 17 percent of the principal chairs in America's top 25 orchestras and four music directorships in the top 50 are held by Curtis-trained musicians. More than 60 alumni have performed with the Metropolitan Opera.

Famous Alum: Anthony McGill, who has been the principal clarinetist of the Metropolitan Opera and now the New York Philharmonic, he was in the quartet (along with Yo-Yo Ma) that played at Barack Obama's 2009 inauguration. Also: Leonard Bernstein.

How to Spend the Money Saved on Tuition: Buy a membership to the Franklin Institute to supplement your musical education.

6. Alice Lloyd College

All students at Alice Lloyd College in Pippa Passes, Ky., are required to work at least 10 hours per week in exchange for free tuition. Students who need additional financial aid to pay for room and board may work up to 15 hours per week. Jobs at the school of 550 are assigned based on a student's work experience and personal preference.

History: Alice Spencer Geddes Lloyd, a former publisher and editor of The Cambridge Press, moved from Boston to Eastern Kentucky in 1916. With the help of June Buchanan, Lloyd chartered what was then called Caney Junior College in 1923. The school became an accredited four-year college in 1980.

Notable: The call letters for Alice Lloyd College's non-commercial radio station, which has broadcast inspirational programming around the clock since 1998, are WWJD-FM.

Famous Alum: Carl D. Perkins, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1949 until his death in 1984. Perkins's legacy lives on in the form of the Perkins Loan, a need-based Federal student loan.

How to Spend the Money Saved on Tuition: Elk were introduced to Kentucky in 1997 as part of a restoration project and Knott County, which includes Pippa Passes, is now known as the elk capital of the East. Tours are available through several outlets.

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science
Scientists Study the Starling Invasion Unleashed on America by a Shakespeare Fan

On a warm spring day, the lawn outside the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan gleams with European starlings. Their iridescent feathers reflect shades of green and indigo—colors that fade to dowdy brown in both sexes after the breeding season. Over the past year, high school students from different parts of the city came to this patch of grass for inspiration. "There are two trees at the corner I always tell them to look at," Julia Zichello, senior manager at the Sackler Educational Lab at the AMNH, recalls to Mental Floss. "There are holes in the trees where the starlings live, so I was always telling them to keep an eye out."

Zichello is one of several scientists leading the museum's Science Research Mentoring Program, or SRMP. After completing a year of after-school science classes at the AMNH, New York City high school students can apply to join ongoing research projects being conducted at the institution. In a recent session, Zichello collaborated with four upperclassmen from local schools to continue her work on the genetic diversity of starlings.

Before researching birds, Zichello earned her Ph.D. in primate genetics and evolution. The two subjects are more alike than they seem: Like humans, starlings in North America can be traced back to a small parent population that exploded in a relatively short amount of time. From a starting population of just 100 birds in New York City, starlings have grown into a 200-million strong flock found across North America.

Dr. Julia Zichello
Dr. Julia Zichello
©AMNH

The story of New York City's starlings began in March 1890. Central Park was just a few decades old, and the city was looking for ways to beautify it. Pharmaceutical manufacturer Eugene Schieffelin came up with the idea of filling the park with every bird mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare. This was long before naturalists coined the phrase "invasive species" to describe the plants and animals introduced to foreign ecosystems (usually by humans) where their presence often had disastrous consequences. Non-native species were viewed as a natural resource that could boost the aesthetic and cultural value of whatever new place they called home. There was even an entire organization called the American Acclimatization Society that was dedicated to shipping European flora and fauna to the New World. Schieffelin was an active member.

He chose the starling as the first bird to release in the city. It's easy to miss its literary appearance: The Bard referenced it exactly once in all his writings. In the first act of Henry IV: Part One, the King forbids his knight Hotspur from mentioning the name of Hotspur's imprisoned brother Mortimer to him. The knight schemes his way around this, saying, "I'll have a starling shall be taught to speak nothing but 'Mortimer,' and give it him to keep his anger still in motion."

Nearly three centuries after those words were first published, Schieffelin lugged 60 imported starlings to Central Park and freed them from their cages. The following year, he let loose a second of batch of 40 birds to support the fledgling population.

It wasn't immediately clear if the species would adapt to its new environment. Not every bird transplanted from Europe did: The skylark, the song thrush, and the bullfinch had all been subjects of American integration efforts that failed to take off. The Acclimatization Society had even attempted to foster a starling population in the States 15 years prior to Schieffelin's project with no luck.

Then, shortly after the second flock was released, the first sign of hope appeared. A nesting pair was spotted, not in the park the birds were meant to occupy, but across the street in the eaves of the American Museum of Natural History.

Schieffelin never got around to introducing more of Shakespeare's birds to Central Park, but the sole species in his experiment thrived. His legacy has since spread beyond Manhattan and into every corner of the continent.

The 200 million descendants of those first 100 starlings are what Zichello and her students made the focus of their research. Over the 2016-2017 school year, the group met for two hours twice a week at the same museum where that first nest was discovered. A quick stroll around the building reveals that many of Schieffelin's birds didn't travel far. But those that ventured off the island eventually spawned populations as far north as Alaska and as far south as Mexico. By sampling genetic data from starlings collected around the United States, the researchers hoped to identify how birds from various regions differed from their parent population in New York, if they differed at all.

Four student researchers at the American Museum of Natural History
Valerie Tam, KaiXin Chen, Angela Lobel and Jade Thompson (pictured left to right)
(©AMNH/R. Mickens)

There are two main reasons that North American starlings are appealing study subjects. The first has to do with the founder effect. This occurs when a small group of individual specimens breaks off from the greater population, resulting in a loss of genetic diversity. Because the group of imported American starlings ballooned to such great numbers in a short amount of time, it would make sense for the genetic variation to remain low. That's what Zichello's team set out to investigate. "In my mind, it feels like a little accidental evolutionary experiment," she says.

The second reason is their impact as an invasive species. Like many animals thrown into environments where they don't belong, starlings have become a nuisance. They compete with native birds for resources, tear through farmers' crops, and spread disease through droppings. What's most concerning is the threat they pose to aircraft. In 1960, a plane flying from Boston sucked a thick flock of starlings called a murmuration into three of its four engines. The resulting crash killed 62 people and remains the deadliest bird-related plane accident to date.

Today airports cull starlings on the premises to avoid similar tragedies. Most of the birds are disposed of, but some specimens are sent to institutions like AMNH. Whenever a delivery of dead birds arrived, it was the students' responsibility to prep them for DNA analysis. "Some of them were injured, and some of their skulls were damaged," Valerie Tam, a senior at NEST+m High School in Manhattan, tells Mental Floss. "Some were shot, so we had to sew their insides back in."

Before enrolling in SRMP, most of the students' experiences with science were limited to their high school classrooms. At the museum they had the chance to see the subject's dirty side. "It's really different from what I learned from textbooks. Usually books only show you the theory and the conclusion, but this project made me experience going through the process," says Kai Chen, also a senior at NEST+m.

After analyzing data from specimens in the lab, an online database, and the research of previous SRMP students, the group's hypothesis was proven correct: Starlings in North America do lack the genetic diversity of their European cousins. With so little time to adapt to their new surroundings, the variation between two starlings living on opposite coasts could be less than that between the two birds that shared a nest at the Natural History Museum 130 years ago.

Students label samples in the lab.
Valerie Tam, Jade Thompson, KaiXin Chen and Angela Lobel (pictured left to right) label samples with Dr. Julia Zichello.
©AMNH/C. Chesek

Seeing how one species responds to bottlenecking and rapid expansion can provide important insight into species facing similar conditions. "There are other populations that are the same way, so I think this data can help [scientists],” Art and Design High School senior Jade Thompson says. But the students didn't need to think too broadly to understand why the animal was worth studying. "They do affect cities when they're searching for shelter," Academy of American Studies junior Angela Lobel says. “They can dig into buildings and damage them, so they're relevant to our actual homes as well.”

The four students presented their findings at the museum's student research colloquium—an annual event where participants across SRMP are invited to share their work from the year. Following their graduation from the program, the four young women will either be returning to high school or attending college for the first time.

Zichello, meanwhile, will continue where she left off with a new batch of students in the fall. Next season she hopes to expand her scope by analyzing older specimens in the museum's collections and obtaining bird DNA samples from England, the country the New York City starlings came from. Though the direction of the research may shift, she wants the subject to remain the same. "I really want [students] to experience the whole organism—something that's living around them, not just DNA from a species in a far-away place." she says. "I want to give them the picture that evolution is happening all around us, even in urban environments that they may not expect."

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This Russian Kindergarten Looks Just Like a Castle
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YouTube

A group of lucky kindergarteners in Russia don’t have to wear poufy dresses or plastic crowns to pretend they’re royalty. As Atlas Obscura reports, all they have to do is go to school.

In a rural area of Russia's Leninsky District sits a massive, pastel-colored schoolhouse that was built to resemble Germany's famed Neuschwanstein Castle. It has turrets and gingerbread-like moldings—and instead of a moat, the school offers its 150 students multiple playgrounds, a soccer field, a garden, and playhouses.

Tuition is 21,800 rubles (about $360) a month, but the Russian government subsidizes it to make it less expensive for parents. As for the curriculum: it’s designed to promote social optimism, and each month’s lesson plan is themed. (September, for example, will be career-focused.)

Take a video tour of the school below, or learn more on the school’s website.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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