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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.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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