The cost of college is rising exponentially and many people are forced to look for alternatives to traditional universities for a quality education. Some of these folks are turning to massive open online courses to fill their needs.

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are free and offer students access to information typically reserved for traditional college students. People can enroll in online classes on topics ranging from coding and web development to digital media strategies.

By allowing students to freely share information, MOOCs have made it possible for people to learn the skills required to create their own startups. Many MOOC courses can be completed in just a few weeks, and students can work at their own pace.

Though somewhat controversial, MOOCs have seen a great deal of success in recent years. These four people used their education to help make names for themselves in today’s competitive workforce.

1. Brandon Kidd – Founder of Factory Web Design

After spending 12 years working in digital marketing and designing websites for startups, Brandon Kidd decided to go back to school to advance his career. With the cost of books and tuition too expensive, Kidd felt enrolling in a university would not be effective or fast enough to meet his goals. That’s when he found Treehouse.

He began taking online courses in coding and web development, learning new ways to utilize advanced programs like CSS3 and PHP to improve his skills. He did this while balancing working for two different digital agencies and applying what he learned in project management and development.

With the help of friends and the skillset he derived from the courses at Treehouse, Kidd created Factory Web Design, a branding and web design agency that offers long-term marketing strategies. Kidd and his team are in the process of launching Themazing, a website that will offer cost effective WordPress themes for the average blogger.

2. Whitney Meers – Writer and Digital Campaign Manager

After graduating from law school in 2009, Whitney Meers reached a stumbling block that many college graduates face. She realized she had a degree she no longer wanted to use. Meers’ passion was always writing and she knew a career in law would never ignite a spark in her. After delving into the world of digital media, and having a modicum of success, she decided to get a jumpstart on her education, which is when a friend introduced her to General Assembly (GA).

Meers enrolled in GA’s Digital Marketing course after comparing it with other programs, deciding the emphasis on useful and practical skills offered by GA would be the best fit for her goals.

Meers now manages digital campaigns for two startups. She also writes for numerous websites and produces her own web series. Her enthusiasm and success led to her being invited back by GA to assist in teaching their Digital Brand Strategy course.

3. Sam Fellig – Creator of Outgrow.me

Sam Fellig was full of ideas, but wasn’t sure how to implement them. Fellig decided he needed to find a quick, affordable way to get the education needed to create his own startup.

After finding Codecademy, Fellig realized the hands-on approach offered by the courses, rather than endless video tutorials, was the perfect platform for him. By focusing on coding with Ruby on Rails and API programming, Fellig learned how to code websites and begin working on his dream project, which turned into Outgrow.me.

Outgrow.me is a digital marketplace where users can buy the products created from successful crowdfunding projects. The projects on Outgrow.me were all developed from crowdsourcing funds on popular sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

Time” named Outgrow.me one of the Top 50 sites of 2013. Fellig continues taking Codecademy courses to help him on his path to developing his next project.

4. Joelle Steiniger – Co-Founder of Small HQ

Unfulfilled in her job as a project manager for a digital design agency, Joelle Steiniger was looking for a way to transition into the front-end of the field. She wanted to create projects, not lead them. The only problem was that she had no idea how to code.

After working with a friend to help build Small HQ, a website offering SaaS apps for businesses, Steiniger decided to dive headfirst into coding. She signed up with Treehouse and began spending every free moment taking courses in HTML and CSS. She was designing and building her own websites in weeks. The best part? People paid her for them.

Since starting at Treehouse, Steiniger expanded her knowledge with courses in Ruby on Rails and has continued to sell her website designs. She is also adding code to her startup, Small HQ, and its Hookfeed and Minimalytics SaaS apps.

Getting a good education is within reach for everyone, especially with the help of these MOOCs. These programs are allowing people to get hands-on experience without the cost. All you need is the drive to try it out.

Photo: Twitter

Find Ryann on Google+