“Low-Cost” Baccalaureate Degrees: Will You Soon Pay for What You Get, at Least in Texas?

Colleges and universities across the country are trying to find ways to curb, or off-set, increasingly prohibitive tuition costs.  But Texas Governor Rick Perry has thrown down the gauntlet by challenging that state’s public universities (and the nation) to come up with a baccalaureate degree that cost students only $10,000.  The current yearly in-state tuition at Texas universities ranges from $15, 348 to $25,477.  These figures include tuition, fees, book, board and transportation.

This week Texas Commission of Higher Education, Raymund A. Paredes, declared that Perry’s proposal is “highly feasible.”  He argues that the goal is “about making sure we have a range of options for young people so they can select a path to a baccalaureate that makes the most sense to them.”  According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, this clearly and consciously “stripped-down degree” would account for ten percent of the total baccalaureate degrees from Texas schools.  The more pressing question, however, is which students are most likely to “opt” for the “low-cost” degree.  The obvious answer is low income students who also just happen to be disproportionately non-white.

What is not addressed by either the Coordinating Board or Commissioner Paredes is the long-term consequence of opting fora low-cost degree.  What happens when students with low-cost degrees apply to graduate and professional schools?  Will their degrees be considered competitive or will these graduates be consigned to jobs that nominally require a college degree?  Will they become second-class college graduates – educated cashiers at fast food restaurants?

Most of us in higher education readily admit that tuition costs are too high and that we need to think about cost-cutting measures.  But hopefully few of us want any variation of the Texas two-tier model, for if Texas has its way “low-cost” JD and MD degrees may not be far behind.  I doubt that anyone wants to be treated by a physician with a low-cost medical degree, and I certainly would not want to be represented by a lawyer with a low-cost law degree.  In the meantime in an attempt to off-set costs we set universities where increasing few teachers are tenured and language or classic departments and/or programs are gutted with little thought about their educational value.

It is time we ask ourselves a hard question the answer to which we might not want to know: whether the  popular American notion that college should be available for anyone who has the money (or can borrow the cost of tuition) contributes to the high cost of a college education.  In many countries with quality higher education systems, only the most talented need apply, and the costs are low.  But before we can even think about limiting access to higher education we need to (re)commit to providing better primary and secondary education for everyone in this country.  Only then can we focus on how to ensure that truly talented individuals obtain a college degree without being burdened with a life-time of debt.  In the meantime, folks in Texas may have to “settle” for second-class degrees.

This is my final post on Concurring Opinions.  Sorry I did not have time to post and provoke more.  I’ve really enjoyed my month’s stint.

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2 Responses

  1. Brett Bellmore says:

    “I doubt that anyone wants to be treated by a physician with a low-cost medical degree”

    Why not? Heck, I went to college, (electrical engineering) back in the 70’s, and even then you could see that most of the money being spent by the university on campus had nothing to do with actually delivering an education. Even then you could calculate a reasonable cost for an education, based on teachers’ salaries and reasonable facilities, and figure that tuition could have been a lot lower. Given that inflation in tuition has vastly exceeded inflation in instructors’ salaries, this has only gotten worse.

    Granted, the campus was very nice, and that new sports facility was spectacular, but we could have gotten as good an *education* in a trailer park, at half the cost.

    “and language or classic departments and/or programs are gutted with little thought about their educational value.”

    Perhaps they’ll be gutted with considerable attention to their educational value.

  2. frankcross says:

    Fortunately, I think this is old news. The university and prominent alumni have fought back and stopped the process, at least for the time being. But perhaps Perry’s retreat is merely a strategic one