A $10,000 degree bargain for Texas

Published on Monday, 10 February 2014 23:03 - Written by

One of the most promising initiatives put forth by outgoing Gov. Rick Perry is the “$10,000 college degree,” a challenge he issued to state universities.

A number of universities accepted that challenge, and while it’s still early to evaluate results in Texas, other states are showing that a $10,000 degree is a great option for students.

Writing in National Journal magazine, Sophie Quinton reported about such efforts in Florida.

“Tuition increases at independent colleges have been sustained, in part, by a belief among affluent families that higher prices signal better quality. If that were true, Alberto Partida, 43, would be in big trouble,” Quinton writes. “His four-year degree from Broward College, a former community college in South Florida, will cost him less than $10,000.”

But employers don’t see much difference between a less-expensive degree and the traditional sheepskin.

In fact, she added, “Graduates from the Florida College System’s workforce-oriented bachelor’s degree programs earn about $8,000 more the year after graduation than university graduates, according to research mandated by the state legislature.”

So what’s not to like about a less expensive college education?

Well, there’s the quality of education, some supporters of traditional academia say.

“The idea of lowering the cost of educating students raises quality concerns for many in higher education, particularly faculty members at Texas universities,” reports the journal Inside Higher Ed. “Costs are typically reduced by bringing in adjunct faculty members, increasing class sizes, reducing student support services, and adopting online programs, all of which could reduce the quality of the education offered, they say.”

That magazine quotes a spokesman for the Texas Faculty Association saying “I wonder what education a student will attain with that $10,000 degree.”

Other critics say that such programs make college into a mere trade school — neglecting the liberal arts education (“liberal” in its original sense, meaning “freeing”) for technical training.

But here’s where those criticisms fall short. A $10,000 degree program is a market-driven higher education reform — and answerable to the marketplace. As the Florida statistics show, students are choosing the degree programs, and employers are choosing their graduates.

If students or employers feel the college’s product is inferior, they free to choose other options — indeed, they’ll feel they must choose something else. The problem, if there is one, will take care of itself.

As for a “liberal” education, supporters of the $10,000 degree quite fairly ask whether a truly classical education is even offered by the state schools these days.

A 2011 study reported by the New York Times “found that large numbers of the students were making their way through college with minimal exposure to rigorous coursework, only a modest investment of effort and little or no meaningful improvement in skills like writing and reasoning.”

Students should be told they’ll get out of college what they put into it — intellectually speaking. And colleges should be reminded they’re providing a service in a competitive market.

A $10,000 degree is a great option for many Texas students and their families.