How to do a $10,000 degree

A $10,000 bachelor’s degree is a realistic goal, writes Publius Audax, a humanities professor at a Texas university, on Pajamas Media. Gov. Rick Perry wants state universities to offer a low-cost path to a degree. Texas should pick 25 of the most important and popular majors and design three-year bachelor’s programs, Audax proposes. Then the curriculum could be streamlined by “eliminating all electives and standardizing all required courses.” The state would need 412 courses to meet requirements in 25 majors.

Select the state’s top scholars and scientists to design the courses, videotaping the best lecturers, purchasing the copyright of the best textbook materials, and designing a suite of web-based learning tools. This would require a significant one-time investment of approximately $500K per course, for a total of $200 million.

. . . Require all state universities to offer all 412 courses to their students at a cost of only $250 per, plus $400 per semester for registration services and IT support. If a student took five courses per semester for three years, the total cost per student of the degree would be $9,900. Each student would be given free access to the state’s library of videotaped lectures, the online textbooks, and the web-based tools. The university would provide online discussion sections and laboratory sections.

For each instructor teaching 150 students, the state university would receive $75,000 in tuition, he calculates, not counting the administrative fee.

The low-cost, low-touch degree would be backed by an exam to demonstrate mastery.

Provide mandatory state-wide standardized tests for each year of each program, providing an accurate measure of student learning. The College Learning Assessment, as well as CLEP and GRE Subject exams, could be used to measure students’ progress in critical thinking, logic, writing skills, and discipline-specific competencies.

Well-prepared, motivated learners could earn a $9,900 degree in three years. The average college student, shaky on math and writing skills and used to hand-holding in high school, isn’t likely to make it without a lot more support. But it would be very interesting to see how many students would rise to the challenge in hopes of saving time and money.

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  1. A fully accredited external degree can be had for even less if a student takes and passes AP classes in high school and then takes and passes CLEP, DANTES, and Excelsior College exams to get a jump start before enrolling. If exams are going to be used to demonstrate mastery why not offer credit for passing them? Kudos to the the American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service (CREDIT) for helping so many get education credentials without sacrificing their financial futures.

  2. Also, many parents and students overlook the obvious, which is going to a community or junior college for two years, getting the core stuff out of the way, getting the associates degree, and transferring to a four year school…big savings, and your bachelor’s degree be just the same as if you attended all four years.

  3. Mark Roulo says:

    Also, many parents and students overlook the obvious, which is going to a community or junior college for two years, getting the core stuff out of the way, getting the associates degree, and transferring to a four year school…

    I California, the transfers have been interrupted sporadically over the last few years as the state goes through its ongoing budget crisis. Ten years ago this was a very good low-cost plan. Today you run the risk of not being able to transfer to a UC or CalState because the slots just aren’t there. I imagine that you can get on a waiting list, but a four year degree has now turned into a five year one …

  4. A low cost degree like this would also be great for people with a liberal arts BA who wanted to pick up a professional degree…

  5. Some states (Illinois is one) have truth-in-tuition laws, which specify that the tuition paid as a freshman will be the same for four years. Going to a CC for two years and transferring doesn’t save much, if anything, anymore.

  6. I should clarify: if you start at a state university in 2011 paying X dollars, you’ll pay X dollars for four years. If you start at a community college and transfer in 2013, you’ll pay whatever the tuition has been raised to in 2013.

  7. Thomas Edison State (NJ) offers degrees online for reasonable costs. The AA is accepted at other NJ State schools like Rutgers. The College of New Jersey (highly selective) might not recognize some of the STEM’s classes, though. They offer a wide rage of options for completing courses including CLEP and other testing options.

  8. State schools here in NJ are no bargain. Rutgers is roughtly 10k per year as an undergrad living off campus – 20k on campus. I can send my kid to a good quality private school for a similar out of pocket if he chooses to live on campus, which is likely what we’ll do.

  9. Stacy; Be glad you’re not a Vermonter; instate tuition and fees at the University of Vermont are now $14k and board and room jumps to $23k – I just checked. I know that UVM has been popular with the metro NY and metro Boston kids for at least 40 years; if it’s still true, they’ll pay $32.6k tuition and a total of $42k with room and board. Scary.

  10. Actually, if the feds wanted to investigate something, they should start with the issue of tuition, which since 1982 has increased on average 432 percent.

    I graduated in 1981, when you could attend the local comm. college for roughly $120-170 a semester for 12 credit hours, add in books, etc…perhaps maybe 300-400 a semester, or about 1500-2000 for two years (you could actually work and pretty much pay your own way through school).

    Jump forward 30 years, and the actual ‘value’ of the degree is now in question, as students amass so much debt (which cannot be discharged in a bankruptcy), that students may spend 20-40 years paying it all off (for a piece of paper employers seem to attach some value to).

    It occurs to me that a high school diploma plus some OJT did pretty much the same thing 30 years ago (now, that’s scary).

  11. Wow, Momof4, that’s amazing. I googled Rutgers and I underestimated tuition by $2,500, but 14k at UVM is outrageous. How do they justify that? Another issue we have at Rutgers is that they give preferential enrollment to out of state and foreign students because of the added revenue via tuition. Some well qualified Jersey residents won’t get a spot at Rutgers because they set aside a certain number for non-residents. Higher Education is almost as screwed up as k-12.

  12. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Why don’t we just cut to the chase? Who needs classes? Just have a certifying exam. You show up in person, show your I.D. and get fingerprinted, take the exam, and if you pass, you get class credit.

    Having web lectures available is nice and all, but it’s not really that much better than having someone’s syllabus/reading list and access to a public library.

    Or hell, just having access to the internet. The information’s already all out there. Wanna learn Chemistry? Google “Intro Chemistry Syllabus”. The very first thing that comes up includes this:

    The fully successful student will also realize the following specific learning outcomes:

    1) Understand the general properties of matter.

    2) Understand the phase changes that maters undergoes.

    3) Perform mathematical manipulations such as unit analysis with proper attention to units and significant figures.

    4) Explain atomic spectra and electronic configurations based on the results of elementary quantum mechanics.

    5) Name and classify ionic compounds, covalent compounds;

    6) Calculate amounts of chemicals involved in reactions based on balanced chemical equations and the mole concept.

    7) Visualize molecules with proper molecular and electronic geometries as predicted by VSEPR theory.

    8) Identify and predict the outcome of the various types of chemical reactions including acid-base and precipitation reactions.

    9) Understand the physical and molecular nature of solutions, Calculate and utilize solution concentration units, e.g. molarity.

    10) Recognize oxidation-reduction reactions using the concept of oxidation numbers.

    Then hit wikipedia and start reading. (Wikipedia is awful for the humanities, but surprisingly good for STEM and logic/set-theory info.) At the end of the week, go take the test. Or the end of the month if you think you need more practice.

    Once we get the people who just want certifications out of the university, and handle that through an explicit process of actual certification without the pretense of a collegiate setting, colleges can focus on research and the academic training of people who are intensely interested in pursuing their majors in depth and in pursuing the life of an academic.