One significant limitation is that so far, the $10,000 programs cover only a few majors. The A&M–San Antonio program offers only a major in information technology, while UTPB has five majors available for $10,000: math, chemistry, geology, computer science, and information systems.
Through the Affordable Baccalaureate Degree Program — which is run by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, Texas A&M University–Commerce, and South Texas College — the Lone Star State is looking at additional ways to reduce costs, such as online courses. Another change that looks promising is letting students test out of classes whose subjects they can master on their own.
A cheaper degree does not necessarily mean a degree that is worth less. “Our colleges will not be developing programs where the academic quality is diminished,” says Randy Hanna, chancellor of the Florida college system. Already, Florida’s colleges have gained acclaim: In 2011, Valencia College won the award for top community college in the country from the Aspen Institute (an “educational and policy studies organization”), while Broward College and Santa Fe College made the Institute’s list of ten finalists for the 2013 award.
Florida, like Texas, is looking at greater use of online courses. Already, says Hanna, “Florida is a big provider of online education. Between 20 and 25 percent of all of our students in the Florida college system take one or more online courses.”
Still, it remains to be proven that colleges can actually reduce the price to $10,000. Neither Florida nor Texas is giving additional subsidies to schools that offer the $10,000 degrees, but schools can draw on the resources (including government funds) they already have to finance the programs.
“It’s not going to be a silver bullet,” admits Chavez. But he thinks Texas could gain in the long term. “We’re working on a number of cost-efficiency recommendations for higher education that, combined with this particular tool, we think will, over the long term, start to bend that cost curve, or at least start to control costs and the inflation that we’ve seen in the last decade or so.”
Vedder thinks it’s important to view $10,000 degrees as an option for those already planning to go to college, not as a technique to attract more students. Vedder says he sees too many students with college degrees working jobs — such as being bartenders or janitors — that they are overqualified for.
But regardless of how these degrees are ultimately utilized, if Texas and Florida succeed, it’s likely that more states will look to introduce similar programs.
“Now that parents and students have begun to hear that there is a $10,000 degree out there,” Lindsay says, “I think what you are going to see [is that] this is going to spread like wildfire.”