TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 25

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. The U.S. wants to hack your phone because it doesn’t have the real spies it needs.

By Patrick G. Eddington at Reuters

2. Eight universities account for half of all history professors in the U.S. How did that happen?

By Joel Warner and Aaron Clauset in Slate

3. Bill Gates is investing in low-tech impact entrepreneurs in India.

By David Bank in Entrepreneur

4. “Liquid biopsy” can detect cancer from a few drops of blood.

By Michael Standaert in MIT Technology Review

5. Let’s build the infrastructure to make microfinance institutions into true innovation hubs.

By Jessica Collier in Medium

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 24

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. For some returning from war, a ‘G.I. bill for farming’ eases the transition home.

By Abby Wendle at Harvest Public Media

2. In Egypt, a class project to fight sexual harassment has grown into a campus-wide movement encouraging women to “Speak Up.”

By Ahmed Fouad in Al-Monitor

3. Your kid’s school is missing the tech revolution, and it’s all your fault.

By Jason Tanz in Wired

4. Community courts focus on rehabilitation and compassion for non-violent offenders.

By Henry Gass in the Christian Science Monitor

5. A new ‘Uber for packages’ service is partnering with Waffle House to build a network of delivery points around the south.

By Amar Toor in the Verge

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY Ask the Expert

This Formula Can Help You Figure Out How Much to Save for College

Ask the Expert - Family Finance illustration
Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: “My husband and I have been saving for our kids’ college since they were born. They are now 4 and 6. Our initial plan was to just throw what we could into a savings account, then we moved that money to a 529. We make small monthly contributions, and also contribute some money whenever we get a bonus or they get a birthday gift from grandparents. However, we still don’t have a number in mind for what we actually need by the time they start school. How much should we be saving for them each month?” —Ryan Phelan

A: Congratulations for starting the saving process early and taking full advantage of compounding in that 529 account. That’s less money you’ll have to borrow later.

Now for the bad news: By the time your eldest child enters college, four years at an in-state public school will cost an average $130,000 and a private-school education will run $235,000 if prices continue rising at the rate they have for the last five years.

Footing the full freight will be unrealistic for most folks, especially those like you who have more than one child to put through school. Besides, you should also be saving for your own retirement—since you can’t fund that stage of life with loans as you can your kid’s education.

Mark Kantrowitz, author of Filing the FAFSA and senior vice president of the Edvisors Network, offers a more reasonable goal: Try to save a third of your kids’ expected college costs by the time they’re on campus. The next third can come from income (plus grants and scholarships) at the time tuition needs to be paid, and the final third you or your kid can borrow.

The idea is to spread the cost out over time to make that staggering price tag more manageable, says Kantrowitz. You’re putting together past income (what you’ve saved), current income (while the child is in school), and future income (yours or your child’s to pay back the loans).

So in your situation, a good goal would be to put away at least $43,000 or $78,000 for your eldest child, depending on whether you’re aiming to pay for public or private school.

You can estimate a savings number for your younger child—and anyone else can figure it out for their own kid—by figuring out the full cost of an average college education the year the child was born, since college costs increase by about a factor of three over any 17-year period, says Kantrowitz.

For help translating the big number into what you need to save each month—based on your state, income, children’s ages, and current 529 savings—use this 529 college savings planner tool from Savingforcollege.com.

More from Money 101:

Where should I save for college?

How much should I save for college vs. retirement?

What’s the best 529 plan for me?

TIME Workplace & Careers

8 Things Millennials Should Do Before Their First Job Interview

Reminder for Job Interview
Getty Images

Truthful advice on how recent graduates can navigate today’s job market

Maybe it’s because we’re taught to find an older mentor. Or maybe it’s because people who are gray around the temples simply look wiser. Whatever the reason, when you’re fresh out of college, it’s tempting to seek career advice from the most accomplished people in the field you’re hoping to break into.

But in reality, those execs chalked up most of their accomplishments in an entirely different economic, technological and professional landscape. So Fortune talked to more recent college graduates—millennials who entered the workforce in the years after the economic crash and the invention of Twitter—about what they wish they’d known about getting a toehold in their career when they were 22.

Before you accept an internship, especially an unpaid internship, ask the employer this one question.

“Have you ever hired an intern?”

Internships have become a necessary inconvenience on the path to full-time, paid employment—even though they can sometimes seem more like a cruel prank to get recent graduates to fetch coffee and make copies for free.

Occasionally an unpaid internship turns into a solid job, but often it doesn’t. Before you gratefully accept someone’s offer to work for them for free, ask about the company’s track record of hiring from their intern pool, and weigh their answer before you accept. If they’ve only ever hired one intern, but have 60 working for them at any given time, it might be best to walk away.

“Sometimes it is worth it to wait and really vet these organizations. Expect better,” says Justine Dowden, who graduated in 2010 and has had six different internships or jobs since; she’s now pursuing a master’s in public health. “Try to work for a place that wants you to really grow from the experience of working for them, not just use you as expendable cheap labor. That will connect you to people. You really can’t wait around forever, but you can wait around for an internship that’s not just tweeting.”

Sometimes bigger—and more established—is better.

A creative startup with only five employees or a scrappy nonprofit looks cool from the outside—and it’s easy to think that you’ll be able to add a wide range of skills to your resume if everyone on staff is doing a little bit of everything. But it can also be maddening once you’ve been hired. Small upstarts often “don’t have the same HR structures as corporate places or law firms. All of the lines are blurred so it’s harder to know your position,” says Meg, a first-year associate at a law firm in Chicago, who watched many of her undergrad classmates unexpectedly struggle with the loose nature of their jobs at creative upstart companies. “Because the hierarchy wasn’t as clear, it was also harder for them to get mentors,” she adds. Beware of companies that lack a human resources department or won’t give you a concrete job description.

You don’t have to move to New York.

It might seem like all of your friends are moving to Bushwick, but take a wider view. There are good jobs everywhere. “Just try to look beyond NYC or Boston or SF,” says Dowden, who counts an internship in Amsterdam and a public-health job in Sacramento among her most valuable professional experiences.

Don’t wait for permission to put your ideas out into the world.

It’s never been easier to show employers that you have ideas worth listening to. Can’t get an informational interview with a company you’d love to work for? Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to publish your thoughts online about what the organization could be doing better.

“When I was a junior in college, I had some ideas I thought Google should work on, and I wrote this blog post,” says Ted Power, who graduated in 2007. “I mocked up this concept and put it out there, and got very lucky because someone at Google happened to see it, and said oh, you should apply for an internship here.” His internship turned into a full-time job at Google, which he later quit to instead work at a series of startups. Companies pay attention to what people say about them online, and if your tone is professional and your ideas are sound, you just might get lucky like Power did.

Meet as many people as you can. And keep in touch.

It might make you feel like a nag or a phony, but “all the bullshit you hear about networking is so true,” Meg says. When she first interviewed at her law firm, it went well. They told her they really liked her, but they wouldn’t be hiring any new associates that year—an all-too-common interview response in tough economic times. She kept in touch, calling them after she took the bar exam and again after she got the news that she’d passed. After her third or fourth call that ended with a polite decline, she got a call back from one of the partners, offering her a job. Meg’s pretty sure that never would have happened if she hadn’t gotten in touch with them after their initial “sorry, but we’re not hiring now.”

Also, don’t be afraid to work any personal connection you have—even if those connections aren’t people who are directly hiring right now. That fellow intern you befriended last summer? She might not be a hiring manager just yet, but she probably will know before outsiders do when her company is hiring. Don’t unfriend her on Facebook just because you’re annoyed she found a job right away and you didn’t. Stay in touch.

Put your Google-stalking skills to work.

Your talents are wasted on your ex. Instead, read up on the places you want to hire you and the people who work there. This is what LinkedIn is made for, but you can do better than that. Googling and combing social media can yield a surprising amount of information—so much that it’s almost like having a contact within the company. A lot of hiring managers are pretty public these days about what they look for in a new employee. Pay attention to what they’re saying.

It’s ok if you don’t know what your dream job is.

In fact, it might be better that way. The point of your first few jobs is just to try out different roles, responsibilities and different types of work environments.

“There’s a lot of pressure to find your dream job, or something that you absolutely love,” Power says. “That can almost be counterproductive because you have such high expectations. What’s more important is trying a bunch of stuff and figuring out what you like doing day to day. There are a lot of jobs that sound amazing, but the day to day is working in Excel or something.”

And if you do have a dream job, don’t write off an entry-level position just because it’s imperfect. After an internship at the White House, Meg landed a job at the Department of Justice, “which wasn’t my first choice,” she says. But in retrospect, it looks a lot better than the other political jobs she wished she’d gotten at the time. “I made $20,000 more at DOJ than you’d make at the White House,” she says. She also met a fantastic mentor at the Department of Justice, who convinced her to go to law school and ended up changing the course of her career.

Remember to have fun.

This is going to sound almost ridiculous, given that your first few jobs are likely to be less than ideal. But if you’re working super-long hours and finding yourself too busy to even see your friends, take a step back. You have plenty of time to work yourself to the bone later. “Young professional life is trying to figure out balance between trying to get ahead and enjoying your life,” Meg says.

Sure, you have loans to pay off. You want your next job to be a fantastic one. But you shouldn’t be more stressed than your boss who makes ten times as much. Your twenties are “the time you’re supposed to be going on disaster internet dates and going out and finding excellent hangover breakfast restaurants before work the next day,” Meg says. Make the most of them.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Education

A Fraternity Is Suing Wesleyan University Over an Order to Admit Women

Delta Kappa Epsilon accuses the university of “political correctness gone wrong”

A fraternity at Wesleyan University in Connecticut announced Thursday that it is filing a lawsuit against the institution accusing it of sexual discrimination.

Five months ago, the all-male fraternities at Wesleyan were ordered to admit women as both members and residents, or shut down, reports the New York Times.

But Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) and its alumni group, the Kent Literary Club, claim the organization is being targeted unfairly, saying the college’s “selective discrimination is an egregious example of political correctness gone wrong.”

Fraternities had three years to assimilate women into their organizations and housing, but DKE claims it was suddenly told it had to be coeducational in the next school year. The fraternity also said the university had rejected its proposal that women could live at the house but in the form of a sorority rather than join the fraternity.

DKE argues that the university allows other students to live in single-sex dorms or in housing that caters to various interests and cultural identities, such as the Women of Color House; the Turath House for Muslim, Arab and Middle Eastern students; or the Light House for Christian students.

Wesleyan said in a statement that DKE “failed to take any meaningful steps” toward coed living and argued that the fraternity “has historically operated very differently than other special-interest program houses at Wesleyan in many ways.”

[NYT]

MONEY College

The Most Important Thing to Know Before Applying to Grad School

two diplomas two graduation caps stacked
Wendell and Carolyn—Getty Images/iStockphoto

A record number of college students think they'll need a master's to land a job. They'd be smart to weigh the costs against the benefits before applying.

Four years of college is no longer enough to give you an edge in the job market—at least that’s what most of the nation’s college students seem to believe.

More than three-fourths of freshmen at four-year colleges plan to go to graduate school, according the latest in a 49-year long UCLA survey of the attitudes of college first-years. (More than 150,000 full-time students at 227 universities were polled.)

That’s up from 51% in 1974, and only slightly below the record sent in the depths of the recent recession, says Kevin Eagan, interim managing director of UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute.

Usually, interest in grad school spikes during economic downturns. But with the economy healthy, there’s clearly something else going on.

“The percentage of freshmen who think it is important to be well-off financially is at its highest point ever—more than 82%,” explains Eagan, “and during the recession these students were hearing of all of these folks with bachelors’ degrees who were unemployed. So they are recognizing that in order to achieve their objective they need additional credentials.”

Higher Degrees = Higher Pay

Indeed, recent evidence indicates that those with more education have better job prospects. The unemployment rate for those with professional degrees is almost half of the 4% rate for those with just a bachelor’s, for example.

And an analysis by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce found that while the average bachelor’s-degree holder earns about $2.3 million over a lifetime, a master’s degree holder typically earns about $2.7 million and a professional degree earner typically takes home $3.6 million.

Higher Pay ≠ Fast Payoff

But Eagan and other analysts who’ve crunched the numbers say that graduate degrees are also an expensive gamble—and in some cases, have low odds of a financial payoff.

Tuition and fees for a two-year master’s program exceed $20,000 at the average public college, and $45,000 at the average private school. The tuition and fees for a degree from an elite graduate program such as Harvard Business School totals more than $120,000. Living costs can another $12,000 to $24,000 per year, depending on location. All together, you’re looking at a considerable expense on top of the more than $28,000 in undergrad debt new grads who borrow are carrying.

Plus, many graduate programs don’t result in big salaries.

Besides, in some fields, those with advanced degrees aren’t immune to the challenges of finding a job: For example, Eagan says he cautions students pursuing PhDs in humanities about the low odds of finding full-time jobs as professors, as more colleges are replacing tenured instructors with part-time adjuncts.

When a Grad Degree Makes Sense

Wondering if continuing your education pay off for you? There are three situations in which going back to school will put you ahead, according to several recent studies:

  1. You are aiming for a job in a field that either requires a graduate degree or in which employers use graduate degrees as a hiring screen. Besides the traditional graduate-degree-requisite jobs of doctor, lawyer and professor, a growing number of jobs require graduate study, including as librarian, social worker and physical therapist.And, in a study of 19 major employers, Sean Gallagher, an administrator at Northeastern University, found that a growing number of human resources administrators are giving preference to job applicants with masters’ degrees, and that masters’ often helped in competitions for promotions.
  2. You need the degree to get the public service career you want anyway. Students who use the federal direct Stafford and PLUS loan programs to borrow the full cost (including living expenses) of their graduate study and then spend 10 years working for a government agency or a non-profit can have much of their graduate school expenses forgiven under the government’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.According to research by Jason Deslisle, director of the federal education budget project at the New America Foundation, a new veterinarian with the typical education debt load of $132,000 who gets a government job and signs up for Income-Based Repayment (which caps payments at 10% of disposable income) will likely pay a total of only $36,000 in debt payments over 10 years. After the 120th on-time payment, the government would forgive a total of $147,000, which is all of the original debt, plus some unpaid interest. But beware: if you don’t end up making 120 on-time payments while working at public service, you will likely either have to pay off your debt in full, or have to keep making on-time income-based payments for at least 20 years, after which you may be eligible to have any remaining debt forgiven.
  3. You are in a field in which graduate degrees tend to lead to higher earnings. The Georgetown study found that graduate degrees typically add about $1 million to the lifetime earnings of, for example, chemists and financial professionals. But graduate degrees appear to have little overall impact on the average earnings of writers, editors, architects and many kinds of health-related therapists, such as audiologists. You can see the affects of advanced degrees on other occupations by viewing the full report.

Related:

MONEY Out of the Red

This Millennial Paid Off $23,375 in Student Loans in Just 10 Months

Jordan Arnold

"If you have a game plan, you can accomplish your goals," says 22-year-old Jordan Arnold.

Like many millennials, Jordan Arnold graduated from college five figures deep in student debt. Unlike most of his peers, he paid off all of his loans less than a year after graduation.

This is his story, as told to MONEY reporter Kara Brandeisky.

Jordan Arnold, 22
Bluffton, Ind.
Occupation: credit analyst
Initial debt: $23,150
Amount left: $0
When he started paying it down: May 2013
When he became debt-free: March 2014

How I started building debt

I always knew I was going to go to college, though I figured I’d go to community college for a year or two because it’s cheap. But my parents started talking to me about this private Christian school, Indiana Wesleyan in Marion, Ind. I took a visit, and I really liked it. It’s only like 3,000 students on campus, so it’s a tight-knit community.

Tuition and room and board was about $31,000 a year. And the first year I hadn’t applied for federal student aid, since I didn’t commit to the college until about 10 days before classes started. I got some scholarships and a grant from my church, though. So, ultimately, I owed approximately $9,000 that first year.

Getting to $23,000

I could only borrow up to $5,500 in subsidized loans from the government each year, so I worked to cover the rest so that I didn’t have to take out private loans. I also graduated in three years, which helped.

Still, altogether, I had to take out $15,150 in subsidized federal loans and $2,000 in unsubsidized federal loans. I borrowed another $6,000 from my parents.

My uh-oh moment

In the fall semester of my senior year, I remember being kind of nervous. I knew I had to start paying my debt within six months. It’s stressful, when you don’t have any money. And I heard all these stories about college students who get out of school, they have all this debt, and they can’t find jobs.

Getting my debts paid off was important to me. I didn’t want to get the point where I’d have to be paying student loans for another 10 years. Right now, I’m single. I don’t have any dependents that rely on my income. But I didn’t want to have these loans over my head when I’m trying to feed a family and put a roof over their heads. It’s not just about me, it’s about my future family.

My first step out of the hole

Luckily, I got a job right out of college at an insurance agency (I had majored in finance). I was on salary, and it was pretty good: $36,000 plus bonuses.

I didn’t have to pay my student loans for another four months, but over the summer I decided to go ahead and start making payments before interest began accruing.

I actually moved back in with my parents—which is hard when you have been out on your own. But I didn’t really have a reason to move out. And I was blessed that they actually preferred me to live there because I could help out around the farm they own, baling hay or feeding the horses. Living at my parents’ place for free was a lot better than having to pay $400 or $500 a month for rent.

Kicking it into gear

About four months into my new job, I picked up a second job, delivering for Pizza Hut, to help pay off my debt. I would start work at the insurance agency at 8:30 a.m., change in the bathroom at 4:50 p.m., get to Pizza Hut by 5, deliver pizzas until about 9:30, get home around 10, then shower, eat, and go to bed.

My monthly take-home pay from the insurance company was about $2,200, and I made about $1,000 at Pizza Hut. After gas, car insurance, tithing to my church, entertainment and food, I could put about $2,000 towards my debt every month.

At that rate, I was projected to pay off my debt in May 2014. But I got a $3,000 refund on my taxes, and paid off the rest of my debt with that.

How I celebrated being debt-free

I made my last payment the first of March, then I went to Florida with some friends two weeks later. It was pretty rewarding after a 10-month battle. I had probably worked 65 to 70 hours a week for seven or eight months. It was exhausting, but it was worth it.

What I’d tell someone else in my place

If you have a game plan, you can accomplish your goals. I have an account on Mint.com, that’s where I kept my budget. That’s a big part of it—just seeing your progress and knowing you’re getting closer.

Also, have an emergency fund. While I was paying off that debt, I had a small car accident. I was delivering a pizza, and I hit something in someone’s driveway. It cost me about $760 to fix the car. But I had a $1,000 emergency fund, which was kind of a buffer that I kept because life happens.

Finally, don’t be afraid to move home if you have to. That was a big part of how I got out of debt.

My plan for the future

I quit my Pizza Hut job in April after paying off my debt, and now work at a bank analyzing commercial and agricultural loans, which is more in line with what I wanted to do.

I actually haven’t moved out of my parents’ house yet. Instead I’m saving up for a down payment on a house. I’m putting away 50% of my take-home income for that, and I should have a down payment by mid-summer. I also started investing. I started a Roth IRA, and I plan to max it out this year.

Staying true to myself

Some people have made the argument, ‘Maybe you shouldn’t have paid off the debt so fast because the interest rate is cheaper than what it will be for you to borrow for a home.’

That makes sense in my head, but in my heart, I didn’t want this hanging over me. I want to be responsible with my money and build a strong foundation.

Are you climbing out of debt? Share your story of getting “Out of the Red.”

Check out Money 101 for more resources:

MONEY Debt

Americans Are Taking on More Debt—Again

Is it time to worry?

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, then Americans are starting to look a little batty: The average American’s consumer debt is climbing back to the highest levels since we exited the Great Recession. At the same time, however, mortgage payments are declining thanks to the current low home prices. So should Americans we be worried about the uptrend in consumer debt?

Debt on the rise

According to the Federal Reserve, Americans’ appetite for loans is increasing again. The amount of revolving credit outstanding, which primarily reflects credit card debt, totaled $882.1 billion in November, up from $853.3 a year prior. The amount of student loan debt outstanding has climbed from $1.21 trillion to $1.3 trillion; auto debt outstanding has grown from $866.4 billion to $943.8 billion; and mortgage debt outstanding increased $35 billion between the second and third quarter to $8.13 trillion. As of the third quarter, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York pegs Americans’ total debt at $11.71 trillion.

Those numbers may look great to banks like Wells Fargo WELLS FARGO & COMPANY WFC -0.02% , which rely on rising loan volume to pad earnings, but they should be worrisome to American consumers, because they suggest millions of people are spending more money paying down debt and less money saving for a rainy day or retirement.

Straining balance sheets

In the past year, the amount of revolving debt taken on by consumers has grown by 3.3% — nearly double the rate of growth in the average American’s income. As a result, the percentage of the average American’s disposable income that goes toward paying monthly consumer debt payments — such as credit cards, student loans, and auto loans (but not mortgages) — has increased for seven consecutive quarters to 5.3%.

Although the percentage of disposable income that goes toward consumer debt payments still remains below its prior peaks, the current trend could be worrisome, especially if it ends up mirroring the trend that followed the savings and loan crisis in the early 1990s.

Is this a big deal?

Although Americans are paying a greater share of their disposable income to finance consumer debt than they were a year ago, there’s little evidence to suggest that consumers are anywhere near a tipping point that could cause budgets to buckle, spending to sag, and the U.S. economy to slide. In fact, the bigger picture of household debt is much less worrisome than those consumer debt figures.

The financial obligations ratio — a broad measure that, unlike the debt-service-to-obligations ratio, includes rent payments, home owner’s insurance, and property tax payments — is at its lowest levels since the early 1980s. And the total debt-service ratio, which includes consumer debt andmortgages, stands close to 35-year lows at 9.9%. Thus these more comprehensive measures paint a much prettier picture of the average American’s financial situation than the consumer debt payment ratio alone.

Everything is OK — for now

With lower mortgage payments offsetting higher payments on credit cards, student loans, and auto loans, household debt isn’t likely to sink our economy — at least not yet. However, that could change if home prices inch their way higher and mortgage interest rates start to climb. If that happens, then higher monthly mortgage payments could be cause for concern that the average American’s debt has indeed become a problem again.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 5

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Could Blockchain — the secure, encrypted network that powers Bitcoin transactions — be used to build a safer alternate Internet?

By Scott Rosenberg in Backchannel, on Medium

2. One NGO is crowdfunding the fight against human trafficking.

By Leif Coorlim at the CNN Freedom Project

3. High-achieving, low-income students get into selective colleges when they actually apply. Virtual college counselors can make sure they do.

By Bloomberg Philanthropies

4. “Vocal fry” and other patterns in the speech of younger women might signal a change for generations to come.

By Chi Luu in JSTOR Daily

5. Scientists are hoping genetically-modified coral can save the Great Barrier Reef.

By Laura Clark in Smithsonian Magazine

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY Airlines

These Airlines are Offering In-Flight College Classes

Learning in the skies
Dennis Helmar

Your legroom may be shrinking, but at least you can now expand your mind.

Just because you’re on an airplane doesn’t mean your head has to be in the clouds.

In addition to the usual fare of straight-to-DVD movies that will certainly rot your brain, two airlines have recently begun serving up some smarter in-flight entertainment to their passengers: complimentary audio and video of interesting college lectures.

In December, Jet Blue started streaming recorded lectures from some of the nation’s most elite courses, including marketing classes from University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, a Brown University archeology class, and an introduction to guitar and rhythm from the Berklee School of Music. The college lectures are pieces of full courses that are available free through Coursera, a platform for massive open online courses (a.k.a. MOOCs).

Jet Blue also offers video cooking lessons such as “How to brine meats” and “How to read labels on chocolate,” provided by a company called Rouxbe.

On February 1, Virgin America started offering audio and video from the “Great Courses,” a series of recorded lectures from top-shelf professors. Among the talks available: Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium on “The Inexplicable Universe: Unsolved Mysteries” and David Christian, history professor at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, on “What is Big History?”

Both airlines said they would rotate in new lectures every month or two—about how often some college kids attend class.

Gary Leff, a frequent business traveler who blogs at Viewfromthewing.com, says that while he usually works during flights, the college lectures would be at the top of his list for distractions. And he thinks they may be a pleasant surprise for many travelers: “People seem to like the serendipity” of unexpected audio and videos on long flights, he says.

Of course, the free lectures also allow organizations such as the Great Courses and Rouxbe, both of which charge for their entire courses, to market their content to a very captive audience. On the upside for passengers, that likely means other airlines will announce educational content alliances, Leff predicts.

Unfortunately, you won’t get a degree from attending school in the sky. But at least while you’re onboard you can learn something besides the appropriate way to apply an oxygen mask.

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