Green Room

A $10,000 college degree? Rick Perry bets on it

posted at 2:59 pm on November 23, 2012 by

With costs exploding in higher education and student debt becoming a crippling fact of life, many are looking for ways to reduce costs while maintaining access and quality.  Texas Governor Rick Perry has challenged colleges and universities in his state to crafting baccalaureate degree programs that will cost no more than $10,000, including tuition and books — and may have found success already:

Texas is experimenting with an initiative to help students and families struggling with sky-high college costs: a bachelor’s degree for $10,000, including tuition fees and even textbooks. Under a plan he unveiled in 2011, Republican Gov. Rick Perry has called on institutions in his state to develop options for low-cost undergraduate degrees. The idea was greeted with skepticism at first, but lately, it seems to be gaining traction. If it yields success, it could prompt other states to explore similar, more-innovative ways to cut the cost of education. …

In the Lone Star State, 10 institutions have so far responded to the governor’s call with unique approaches, ranging from a five-year general-degree pipeline that combines high school, community college, and four-year university credits to a program that relies on competency-based assessments to enable students to complete a degree in organizational leadership in as little as 18 months.

At Angelo State University, admissions will begin in January for a four-year interdisciplinary-studies program through which students can combine three separate minors into one bachelor’s degree for an overall cost of $9,974. ASU President Joseph Rallo envisions the program as the perfect fit for an adult who is interested in broadening his skills in order to advance his career, not necessarily a student looking for the traditional college experience.

“The profile that we aim the degree for is the adult student who is interested in a broad degree and at the same time a degree that would be academically rigorous,” Rallo said, adding that students must have an ACT score of 27 or above to enter the program and maintain at least a 3.0 grade-point average to continue.

At the University of Texas (Arlington), the university teamed up with Tarrant County community colleges and school districts to create a program that would allow students to obtain a degree in any field for less than $10,000. Students in their junior and senior years of high school will complete dual credit programs already provided by their school districts in order to earn some college credit. The students will go on to spend about a year at community college before finishing their degree at UT Arlington.

These are innovative approaches, and could help some students keep their education debt to manageable levels.  It won’t work in every discipline — law, medicine, and the hard sciences usually require a set curriculum at the college level — but it could help a lot of other students succeed without economically burdening them or taxpayers for decades.  It’s worth watching to see whether these programs can indirectly lower costs and reduce the strain on academic resources in those other areas, too.

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