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College Presidents Say $10,000 Degrees Available Now

Officials from a couple of Texas community colleges and universities told an audience in Austin that $10,000 bachelor's degrees are available now — and more will be within the year.

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Speaking today on a SXSWEdu panel in Austin, officials from a few Texas community colleges and universities said that $10,000 bachelor's degrees are available now — and more will be within the year.

Gov. Rick Perry famously called on the development of a $10,000 degree in his State of the State address in 2011. The proposal met with criticism at the time, but Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board Chairman Fred Heldenfels said it was misunderstood. "It’s not intended to be a bargain degree," he said, offering the metaphor of a no-frills, rapid-rail route rather than an ocean-going cruise.

Called "The Evolving Role of University Systems in Higher Education," today's panel mostly focused on efforts to lower the cost of college. It was moderated by Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp and featured Heldenfels, Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes, and two pairs of university and community college leaders actively collaborating: Texas A&M-San Antonio President Maria Ferrier and Alamo Colleges Chancellor Bruce Leslie, and Texas A&M-Commerce President Dan Jones and South Texas College's Chief Academic Officer Juan Mejia.

Leslie said that Perry's push has led to an increased emphasis on cooperation between community colleges and four-year universities. The result, he said, is a degree that meets Perry's target — and is even less expensive. At Texas A&M-San Antonio, Ferrier said, a bachelor's in information technology with an emphasis on cyber security will cost about $9,700.

They aren't stopping there. "This is a start," she said. "We are looking at other programs that absolutely meet the needs of the region, state and the country and that will really yield a job at the end of that degree."

Jones and Mejia anticipate that starting in 2013, a bachelor's of applied science in organizational leadership will be available for under $10,000 in South Texas.

Other cost-lowering strategies in the works, Jones said, include what he called "shredded e-textbooks," electronic books that can be broken up according to what content is needed and downloaded at low cost. He also expressed interest in competency-based learning — allowing students to advance once they have proven mastery of a subject rather than requiring them to sit through a predetermined amount of classes for course credit.

Like many of these initiatives, Jones said, a competency-based system will not work without buy-in and support from business and industry.

The need to lower college costs is a particular priority in Texas, Paredes said. Sixty percent of students in the state's K-12 pipeline are classified as poor, and in the last session, for the first time ever, the Legislature made cuts to the state's primary need-based financial aid program, known as TEXAS Grants.

Of the $10,000 degrees, Paredes told the Tribune that this means the mission has been started, not accomplished. "We have a proof of concept," he said.

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