The $10,000 Degree Plan, from Start to Finish

Posted February 8, 2013

The total cost (tuition and fees) for an in-state bachelor’s degree for the 2011-2012 school year stood at around $17,131, according to The College Board’s Trends in College Pricing 2011. Out-of-state students experience even more of a penalty, shelling out a shocking $29,657 for their diplomas. Following graduation, the newly minted baccalaureates owe an average of $24,651 in student loan debts, which increase by an average of 5.6% annually. When blended with a fluctuating unemployment rate, it’s not hard to understand why protests break out on college campuses across the nation, begging for a viable solution to their economic struggles.

Enter the $10,000 degree plan. Originally proposed by Texas Governor Rick Perry in 2011, the strategy involves exactly what the label says. Participating students pay no more than $10,000 for their entire bachelor’s degree, including tuition, fees, and books. Some schools have already accepted his challenge, including select satellite campuses of University of Texas (Permian Basin), Texas A&M University (San Antonio), and University of Houston (Victoria). As of mid-January 2013, 23 state colleges from Florida answered a clarion call from Governor Rick Scott, to follow suit. Chancellor at the Division of Florida Colleges Randy Hanna sums up the appeal perfectly — "Affordability is accessibility."

$10k Innovators

According to Hanna, Florida’s model still requires some cooperation with the state legislature to fully establish the broad framework. Individual colleges, including Miami Dade College and Palm Beach State College, will be responsible for filling in the details. In a state with roughly 9,000 college students, he notes that allowing participating schools to decide which bachelor’s degrees to offer, how to secure funding, and other factors should be their responsibility; working closely with the surrounding communities means more accurately tailoring their programs to students’ unique needs, rather than trying to force anyone into a narrow confine. From partnering with local businesses for internships or hosting MOOCs, the schools’ interpretation of the $10,000 degree program remains open. Hanna points out that there is no "typical college student" in Florida, though the median age is 26, as an extremely diverse range of income levels, racial and national backgrounds, abilities, and other demographics are well-represented. Just about the only commonality that will likely exist from school to school involves targeting enrollees hoping to enter the workforce with little to no debt weighing them down.

Students have already entered some of the $10,000 degree plans in Texas, including University of Houston-Victoria, which became the very first college in the state to offer a three-year baccalaureate program (known as DN3). Although stressing affordability and opening up more options for the cash-strapped, UHV provides further grants and scholarships for qualifying students following the completion of years one and two. Texas’ state government does not offer participating colleges any semblance of an incentive for establishing $10,000 baccalaureates, however. Launched in 2010, the majors covered at UHV so far include history, English, Spanish, criminal justice, communications, and psychology. Jeffrey Di Leo, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at UHV, says this option "is the same 120-hour degree as the full-priced one" and points out how "the only difference is that students will complete it in three years — and at a lower cost." The plan includes electives, so their acceleration fully acknowledges the importance of a well-rounded educational experience.

Students Who Benefit

Using UHV’s programs as an example, students interested in pursuing the communications degree might be prime candidates for the $10,000 degree program, based on the post-graduation career flexibility, and fewer demands for post-graduate degrees in the marketplace. They might consider advertising, where the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a growth of 13% for sales agents and 13.3% for managers between 2010 and 2020; for public relations, the BLS forecasts a 22.5% increase for specialists and 16.4% for managers. This may mean more chances for entering the workforce without major student loan debt.

Criminal justice may provide some growing future opportunities, especially for students looking to make the jump to law school. Although requiring additional schooling, lawyers are expected to see an increase in employment of 5.9% before 2020. Saving tuition on undergrad may be a savvy choice, but if a JD seems like too much money or the statistic appears less-than-appealing, the BLS projects a 64% growth rate for paralegal and legal positions.

For the more STEM-oriented, the Texas Science Scholar upcoming $10,000 degree programs could model the University of Texas-Permian Basin, which offers high school students to major in chemistry, computer science, math, information systems, and geology, though the track takes a full four years, rather than three. Applicants enjoy access to Federal Aid information in case they need a little extra help with paying.

Since the diplomas do not differ from their pricier counterparts, and the chances of landing a job or advancing to graduate school remain largely the same, is $10,000 the tuition of the future? Di Leo states simply that the only thing "lost" in the transition to more fiscally friendly options is, "the potential for a higher student debt." To UHV, it all breaks down into the old adage about getting out of something what you’ve put into it. Students who spring for a three-year plan enter the workforce faster, though their employment prospects hinge just as much on their majors and the overall economic climate.

The ultimate sustainability of the $10,000 baccalaureate — discounted in price, but not quality — relies on whether or not students will continue to demand such an option. It may find itself rooted in history as an option for meager economic times, or it may enjoy status as a permanent fixture in higher education. But states and schools alike look upon the challenge with hope; which seems infectious, as the California legislature currently contemplates a bill establishing their own $10,000 degree plan. Even when the job market starts hiring again, enrollees will more than likely still appreciate saving money and time in the long run.

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