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A College Degree For $10K?

As the 2012 presidential elections grow closer each day, it's no surprise that candidates have made some crazy promises in order to gain the spotlight and potential voters.

Gov. Rick Perry, who is in the running for a presidential bid, has certainly made a name for himself in this way, refusing to silence his outspoken views and garnering attention and support in the process.  But as he emerges as a front runner in the Republican party, political analysts and voters alike have begun to scrutinize his prior policy decisions in order to predict how he may act if he ends up at the helm of the country.

In analyzing his prior actions, it has been discovered that Rick Perry has laid down a challenge that seems nearly fantasy in the higher education world we deal with today:

In Februrary 2011, Perry challenged the University of Texas system to create a B.A. program for a cost of less than $10,000.

What?! You may sputter (as I did).  Impossible!  Infeasible!  But obviously intriguing.

As a student who attends an institution that ends up costing nearly four times that amount for a single year, I couldn't help but wonder: is this even possible?  According to the University of Texas system, maybe so.

The University of Texas system has begun to lay down the framework of what a $10,000 college education would look like.  The Chronicle of Higher Education reported in April that the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board proposed a plan that would include "...statewide online courses, more opportunities for students to spend their first two years in community colleges, and accelerated and self-paced course formats".  Switching to the "2 plus 2" plan (as it is called in the article), has already become a more widespread option for students looking to making college more affordable, but the UT option would expand the process.

The article also notes that the Board is considering offering online classes in high-demand fields, which would offer more widespread opportunity to learn, in addition to offering stronger academic advising which will help  keep the amount of schooling under four years.

But not everyone believes this plan is totally feasible.  The New York Times recently featured this plan in their online feature "Room For Debate" where they proposed this possibility to a group of higher ed experts, who each weighed in on the topic.  Though most of the commentators admitted that a four-year education could certainly be priced at less than $10,000, many questioned what kind of education students would be getting for such a low price.

Several expressed concerns that in cutting costs, the higher ed system would cut quality-both in teaching staff and materials available to students, which would result in more college degrees, but no more students prepared to compete in the job market.  One of these commentators, Sean Decatur,Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Oberlin College, notes that an education done cheaply may only shortchange students.

"All of us in higher education (even those of us in private, highly selective institutions) need to take rising costs seriously and embrace approaches that will reduce or contain them'" he writes in his piece for the NYT.  "But rigorous academic preparation of students and quality of student learning must be part of the equation. A low-cost degree, that fails to meet either of these two criteria, is a poor value. "

Another point several commentators brought up is the value of face-to-face learning and the benefits of living in a campus setting, both factors that have proven to improve student's abilities to learn and succeed after college and are not a part of UT's plan.  Martha O'Connor, president of Colleges That Change Lives (a non-profit) notes that college degrees should mean more than simply getting credits in order to get some sort of jobs.  The real benefit of a meaningful college degree is gaining a sense of creativity can lead to creating more jobs and solutions to the problems of today.

"There is great danger in rushing to lower college costs at the expense of a quality college education," she writes.  "The traits that will prepare students for a lifetime: critical and creative thinking skills, learning how to work collaboratively with peers and teachers, in addition to acquiring and honing solid writing and verbal communication skills, require a large dose of the interactive human experience. "

GroupOn Discount For Masters Program

Perry's $10K plan isn't the only "bargain" education that could become the norm.  On Sept. 5, the Chicago Tribune reported on a local university, National Louis University, is offering a GroupOn good for 60 percent off an introductory course in its masters teaching program.  Though the article notes that this is only good for three out of the 36 credits required for the masters degree, a spokesperson for NLU says this is a good way to get make their programs more accessible to a wider range of students.

What do you think about these potential bargain educations?  Do you think it is possible to get a quality bachelor's degree for less than $10,000?  Would you buy a GroupOn for a masters course?  Let us know!  Comment below.

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