MUCH is being written about the preposterously high cost of college. The median inflation-adjusted household income fell by 7 percent between 2006 and 2011, while the average real tuition at public four-year colleges increased over that period by over 18 percent. Meanwhile, the average tuition for just one year at a four-year private university in 2011 was almost $33,000, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. College tuition has increased at twice the rate of health care costs over the past 25 years.
Ballooning student loan debt, an impending college bubble, and a return on the bachelor’s degree that is flat or falling: all these things scream out for entrepreneurial solutions.
One idea gaining currency is the $10,000 college degree — the so-called 10K-B.A. — which apparently was inspired by a challenge to educators from Bill Gates, and has recently led to efforts to make it a reality by governors in Texas, Florida and Wisconsin, as well as by a state assemblyman in California.
Most 10K-B.A. proposals rethink the costliest part of higher education — the traditional classroom teaching. Predictably, this means a reliance on online and distance-learning alternatives. And just as predictably, this has stimulated antibodies to unconventional modes of learning. Some critics see it as an invitation to charlatans and diploma mills. Even supporters often suggest that this is just an idea to give poor people marginally better life opportunities.
As Darryl Tippens, the provost of Pepperdine University, recently put it, “No PowerPoint presentation or elegant online lecture can make up for the surprise, the frisson, the spontaneous give-and-take of a spirited, open-ended dialogue with another person.” And what happens when you excise those frissons? In the words of the president of one university faculty association, “You’re going to be awarding degrees that are worthless to people.”
I disagree. I possess a 10K-B.A., which I got way back in 1994. And it was the most important intellectual and career move I ever made.
After high school, I spent an unedifying year in college. The year culminated in money problems, considerably less than a year of credits, and a joint decision with the school that I should pursue my happiness elsewhere. Next came what my parents affectionately called my “gap decade,” during which time I made my living as a musician. By my late 20s I was ready to return to school. But I was living in Spain, had a thin bank account, and no desire to start my family with a mountain of student loans.
Fortunately, there was a solution — an institution called Thomas Edison State College in Trenton, N.J. This is a virtual college with no residence requirements. It banks credits acquired through inexpensive correspondence courses from any accredited college or university in America.
I took classes by mail from the University of Washington, the University of Wyoming, and other schools with the lowest-priced correspondence courses I could find. My degree required the same number of credits and type of classes that any student at a traditional university would take. I took the same exams (proctored at local libraries and graded by graduate students) as in-person students. But I never met a teacher, never sat in a classroom, and to this day have never laid eyes on my beloved alma mater.
And the whole degree, including the third-hand books and a sticker for the car, cost me about $10,000 in today’s dollars.
*By: ARTHUR C. BROOKS
*Date: January 31, 2013
*Source: NYTimes.com – https://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/01/opinion/my-valuable-cheap-college-degree.html?_r=0