A $10,000 BA Degree?

Can you imagine a student earning a BA degree for a mere $10,000?  That’s not $10,000 per year, but total cost for a 4-year BA or BS degree.

This is the latest proposal for educational “reform” by Texas Governor Rick Perry, whose Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes endorsed the plan this week, claiming that “It’s entirely feasible. It’s something we are going to pursue aggressively.”

The plan apparently would involve the following elements:

  • online classes
  • e-textbooks
  • variable-length courses
  • limited electives
  • two-year study at community colleges before transfer into universities
  • paid internships for students

These stripped-down degrees would not replace existing degrees, but would targeted for low-income students.

Governor Perry and his educational staff claim that quality could be maintained while instituting the low-cost degrees.  Many faculty who have experience working with online classes and transfer students from community colleges would dispute this assertion.  Higher education administrators familiar with university budgets will also be skeptical of this educational “reform” done in the name of cost-cutting and “efficiencies.”  Online classes have proved inefficient and incredibly expensive to maintain.  Low-income students often lack computers, internet connections, and computer skills necessary to complete online classes.  Paid internships are already incredibly difficult for students to find, so increasing the number of students needing them will only make them more competitive.

I personally disagree with the corporate model of education that underpins Governor Perry’s proposal, but since that is the language of this “reform” plan, let’s bring in basic business realities: you get what you pay for.

A $10,000 degree simply could not offer the equivalent of a full bachelor’s degree.  The current average cost of a bachelor’s degree in Texas is $31,696, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.  This is already a very low cost for a bachelor’s degree, compared with universities in other states (which is only made possible by the state’s petroleum based Permanent University Fund). A low-cost degree would necessarily deliver low-quality education.

Governor Perry’s plan is clearly not intended to save money, but to further strip public higher education.  The plan is instead geared toward shifting students into community colleges and for-profit “educational” institutions.

Texas, already near the bottom of U.S. public education at the K-12 level, may now be entering a race to the bottom of higher education, too.

The Austin American Statesman and the Chronicle of Higher Education both report on this story.

Students in Northern Illinois University’s Teacher Certification program will want to follow this developing story, since state-based educational reforms often influence other states’ policies.

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