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The $10K Degree Comes to Texas

The $10,000 BA is an idea whose time has come. In response to a call to action in Governor Rick Perry’s 2011 State of the State address, universities across Texas have been trying to figure out how to offer low-cost degrees. While some universities have discounted some of their degrees, only the University of Texas of the Permian Basin has managed to come up with a degree at Mr. Perry’s proposed price point. It’s a clever solution:

With a new science building that could accommodate more students than were in the university’s science courses, U.T.-Permian Basin found itself uniquely positioned to answer Mr. Perry’s call. Taking a cue from the airline industry, university leaders realized that after they had enrolled enough students to cover their costs, they could offer a less-expensive rate to fill additional seats with high-performing students.

Without the new building and the excess capacity it offers, the university could not have covered its existing costs, leaving the broad applicability of this idea somewhat in doubt.

Happily, the story doesn’t end there. Next month, Angelo State University of San Angelo, Texas, will unveil its own as-of-yet unannounced approach. And the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board is working with two universities to offer a degree that relies heavily on online courseware.

Are these solutions perfect? Probably not. But they’re necessary steps in the right direction—in that the universities are taking steps at all. The ivory tower today is under siege from multiple sources. On the one hand, state budgets are strapped, and legislators are pressing universities to do more with less; on the other, future economic growth depends on our getting more education at a more reasonable price, and if traditional universities don’t adapt their business models to offer it, then someone else will.

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