Texans are known to believe bigger is better, but the Lone Star state is in the news for thinking small — shrinking the cost of a college bachelor's degree to $10,000 or less for tuition, fees and textbooks.
The small tuition price tag is the big idea of Texas Gov. Rick Perry. In January 2011, Perry called for his state's higher education institutions to develop $10,000 college degree programs. The request was greeted with skepticism, but is gaining traction, according to Atlantic magazine.
There is little doubt that tuition relief is needed. For the 2012-'13 academic year, Texas' public four-year schools charged an average annual tuition of $8,353, which is just lower than the national average, the Atlantic said. More than half of U.S. students who earned bachelor's degrees in 2011 borrowed money, and their average debt was $23,800.
Ten Texas learning institutions have responded with original approaches to Perry's challenge. Those range 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," the Atlantic said.
A Texas legislator joined the chorus of voices criticizing Perry's drive to shrink tuition for being overly optimistic on the day it was announced in 2011. State representative Garnet Coleman (D) released a statement that said offering college degrees for $10,000 is "an important goal, but Gov. Perry doesn't say one word about how to pay for it. In fact, in the 10 years he's been Governor, the cost of a four-year college degree has gone up over $12,000, putting college out of reach for thousands of middle-income students."
Indeed, providing an excellent and useful education for a budget price appears to be an elusive goal, the Atlantic said.
Angelo State University's $10,000 option combines three separate minors into a bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary studies aimed at broadening skills of adults looking for career advancement. University of Texas' (Arlington) low-cost degree program has students complete dual credits in high school, then spend a year at a community college before finishing at UT.
Texas A&M (San Antonio) is offering a bachelor's degree in information technology focused on information security. Students stand to benefit, but overall savings remain dubious.
"Officials acknowledge that most of these programs would only reduce the price tag for the student, not the cost to the institution of providing the degree," the Atlantic said. "While select students might pay less overall, institutions must deliver the same faculty, facilities, time, and knowledge they provide to students paying full price for their degrees."
The Texas push for a $10,000 bachelor's degree is spurring innovation, however, and that might be its chief value. Another value could come through Perry's call for heightened transparency in the way public colleges and universities operate, wrote National Association of Scholars blogger Thomas K. Lindsay.
"The public has a right and a duty to learn what and how much students learn while enrolled in our public colleges and universities," Lindsay wrote. "The public likewise deserves to know what the employment prospects are for the plethora of degrees universities offer today."