Texas is experimenting with an initiative to help students and families struggling with sky-high college costs: a bachelor’s degree for $10,000, including tuition fees and even textbooks. Under a plan he unveiled in 2011, Republican Gov. Rick Perry has called on institutions in his state to develop options for low-cost undergraduate degrees. The idea was greeted with skepticism at first, but lately, it seems to be gaining traction. If it yields success, it could prompt other states to explore similar, more-innovative ways to cut the cost of education.
Limiting the price tag for a degree to $10,000 is no easy feat. In the 2012-13 academic year, the average annual cost of tuition in Texas at a public four-year institution was $8,354, just slightly lower than the national average of $8,655. The high costs are saddling students with huge debt burdens. Nationally, 57 percent of students who earned bachelor’s degrees in 2011 from public four-year colleges graduated with debt, and the average debt per borrower was $23,800–up from $20,100 a decade earlier. By Sept. 30, 2011, 9.1 percent of borrowers who entered repayment in 2009-10 defaulted on their federal student loans, the highest default rate since 1996.
In the Lone Star State, 10 institutions have so far responded to the governor’s call with unique approaches, ranging from a five-year general-degree pipeline that combines high school, community college, and four-year university credits to a program that relies on competency-based assessments to enable students to complete a degree in organizational leadership in as little as 18 months.