When Bill Ayers observed that “every revolution is impossible until it happens, and then, looking backwards, every revolution appears inevitable,” it is safe to say that he did not have in mind any endeavors of conservative Texas governor Rick Perry. But with his 2011 state of the state address, Perry may have launched a revolution of his own. Perry challenged Texas’s public universities to craft four-year degrees costing no more than $10,000 in tuition, fees, and books, and to achieve the necessary cost reductions by teaching students online and awarding degrees based on competency.
The idea met with skepticism. Andy Brown, who was then chairman of the Travis County Democrats, labeled Perry’s “scheme to serve up $10,000 college degrees … preposterous,” adding that “nobody in higher education believes that is even possible.” Peter Hugill, a Texas A&M professor who at the time was president of the Texas Conference of the American Association of University Professors, posed the rhetorical question: “Do you really want a stripped-down, bare-bones degree?” Hugill went on to declare that “$10,000 seems to me a number someone pulled out of the air.”
If these reactions suggested Perry was out of step with the higher-education establishment, the public’s reaction suggested that defenders of the status quo had fallen out of step with students, their parents, and taxpayers. Baselice and Associates conducted a public-opinion survey commissioned by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, finding that 81 percent of Texas voters believed public universities could be run more efficiently. Nationally, a 2011 Pew study found that 57 percent of prospective students believed a college degree no longer carries a value worth the cost. Seventy-five percent of respondents declared college simply unaffordable.