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What can you get for $10,000?

You can now get a college degree – at some colleges, in some programs, if you’re lucky.

Many were skeptical when Gov. Rick Perry last year challenged Texas public colleges and universities to offer degrees costing no more than $10,000.

Now 14 institutions have embraced the concept, which Perry sees as a promising way to rein in college costs and increase access.

Several schools began offering bargain degrees this fall, and others are scheduled to start programs next year, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, a cheerleader for the concept.

“We’ve really been a bully pulpit to look at ways to bend the cost curve in terms of tuition and fees,” board spokesman Dominic Chavez said. “We articulate it as a challenge. Ten thousand dollars is a goal. Let’s see how many programs we can get for affordable pathways.”

In-state tuition and fees in Texas have increased by 90 percent in eight years.

The average cost was about $7,300 per year in 2011-12.

[…]

“Our concern is that the idea of the $10,000 degree is diverting attention from the very real conversation about rising costs that must happen among all the members of the higher-education community,” said Ann McGlashan, an associate professor of German and Russian at Baylor University and president of the Texas Conference of the American Association of University Professors.

Texas and other states have dramatically cut higher-education money over the years, forcing tuition up. Now political leaders want to put pressure on universities to reverse the trend while ignoring cost-cutting measures they have already taken, said Dan Hurley, director of state relations for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

“While we support the idea, the $10,000 mark is an artificially set figure,” Hurley said. “To deliver a college education at or below that mark is a little too elementary, given all the dynamics at play. It gets folks excited, but it’s not a sophisticated approach to encouraging system performance.”

[…]

Baylor’s McGlashan said students eligible for $10,000 degrees often have attended well-funded high-schools that offer many dual-credit and Advanced Placement classes that give them a head start.

“It also targets those who know very early on what they want to do with their lives,” she said.

“We need to be talking about the students who don’t have these advantages and what can be done to bring down costs for them. It’s time to put everything on the table and think outside the box.”

I have not paid close attention to this piece of policy from Rick Perry, partly because I don’t take policy ideas from him seriously, and partly because there’s only so many things I can pay close attention to at one time. If this becomes a viable option for a significant number of students, then I will give him credit for it, however grudgingly. I just want to point out that getting a degree at any of the flagship public universities in Texas used to be a pretty affordable proposition, back before tuition was deregulated by Perry and Tom Craddick and the rest of the Republican legislature in 2003, in response to the first budget crisis faced during Perry’s tenure. A Google search for “University of Texas tuition 2003″ led me to this page, which told me that the Undergraduate Flat-Rate Tuition Fall 2002 / Spring 2003 (per semester) at UT was $2,357.00 for College of Liberal Arts, and $2,504.00 for College of Natural Sciences. That’s per semester, so you’d be looking at about $20K in tuition over four years, and of course there’s still room and board and books and transportation, all of which students in the $10K Degree program would need to pay for as well. In return you’d have gotten a degree in the program of your choice at UT, not too shabby a deal if you ask me. The reason in-state tuition has increased so much in the past eight years – that is, since tuition deregulation became the law of the land – is because eight years ago the state greatly scaled back its financial support for public universities, and gave those universities the burden and the freedom to make up the difference by charging more. Point being, if we’d never deregulated in the first place but instead continued the long tradition of supporting public higher education in Texas, we wouldn’t be having this conversation today. Let’s not lose sight of that.

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