Pushing for a $10,000 college degree

Colleges and universities are on a quest for a cheaper college degree. But not everyone gets a bargain.

The typical college graduate leaves school these days with more than $25,000 in student loans. So what if you could get a bachelor’s degree for less than half that amount? That idea is catching on in states like Texas and now Florida. Yesterday, Florida governor Rick Scott challenged that state’s community colleges to create a $10,000 bachelor’s degree.

When you think community college, you probably think two-year associate’s degree. But these days many community colleges are expanding to offer low-priced bachelor’s degrees. A bachelor’s in business at the College of Central Florida already costs just $13,500. So how do you shave that down to 10 grand?

“It’s definitely possible,” says the college’s president Jim Henningsen. He says students could save some money by taking courses in high school for college credit. And the rest? “We think we can do a scholarship program to help supplant those costs,” he says.

Programs like this already exist in Texas, which pioneered the $10,000 degree. But there’s a difference between the price students pay for college and the cost of actually providing the education.

“Is it possible to price a degree at 10,000? Yeah, sure,” says David Feldman, an economics professor at the College of William and Mary and co-author of the book Why Does College Cost So Much? “Is it possible to produce a degree for 10,000? That’s a much more difficult proposition.” Scholarships just shift the burden to someone else, he says.

Florida’s community colleges are looking at ways to actually cut costs, by mixing in some online courses and helping students graduate on time. Feldman says right now the $10,000 degree is mostly a gimmick. “If this…generates real thinking about how to hold down costs in ways that don’t lower quality, more power to it.”

Right off the bat, several of Florida’s state and community colleges pledged to give it some thought. St. Petersburg College plans to start with its technology management program, says president Bill Law. “I’m glad the governor didn’t ask us to make the commitment on a large scale, because I don’t know how that would work yet.”

About the author

Amy Scott is Marketplace’s education correspondent covering the K-12 and higher education beats, as well as general business and economic stories.

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