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$10K Bachelor's Degree Hits Snags


The idea of the $10,000 Bachelor’s degree made headlines when Texas Governor Rick Perry brought it up two years ago, but it has nearly disappeared from coverage since then and only two states, Texas and Florida, have taken up the idea.

This New York Times piece examining the Texas and Florida programs may explain why the idea has dropped off the radar. In both states, relatively few schools (from 16 to 24) are actually offering these low-cost degrees, and they have generally only offered them in a few, small programs. As a result, few students have actually taken advantage of these offerings.

The more serious problem, however, is that the push for cheaper degrees hasn’t led colleges to rethink their degree programs as proponents had hoped. Colleges are simply offering their traditional programs at a discount.

But buried at the bottom of this piece are some signs that schools are indeed beginning to think about curricular changes:

In partnership with the faculty at South Texas College and Texas A&M University-Commerce, the state is building from scratch a degree in organizational leadership that uses online resources and a competency-based approach, in which students get credit for demonstrating what they know rather than how many courses they take.

“It will cost $6,000-$13,000, and be a model to show other institutions that you can create an affordable pathway at your institution,” Mr. Chavez said.

Mr. Chavez said Texas would use the approaches another Republican governor, Scott Walker, is trying in Wisconsin’s new self-paced, competency-based Flexible Option degrees for working adults—an effort President Obama praised in his August push for greater affordability.

These shoots are small, to be sure, but at least they are green and growing. If the education establishment feels tempted to gloat about the lukewarm reception of the discount degree among students, they should note that many of them have stayed away from these programs simply because they receive a lot of financial aid:

On Broward’s Davie campus, news of the low-cost degree option is just now spreading, but even in an education class where most students plan to be teachers, there was not much interest. Several students said that financial aid covers much of their tuition, so any small savings would not sway them from longstanding plans to teach elementary school.

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: as long as federal aid programs and loans are abundant, schools will feel very little pressure to think creatively about cutting costs. In our view, making the sticker price of college more affordable is far preferable to chasing tuition hikes with ever more generous subsidies.

It’s not time to give up on this idea yet. In fact, we’re just getting started.

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  • Andrew Allison

    This post omits the question of what, exactly, a Bachelors degree is worth (very little in today’s economy).

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