With student debt topping $1 trillion, a handful of Texas universities are experimenting with a method to rein in runaway college costs. They’re adding affordable diplomas to their course lists for the tempting price of $10,000 each.
So far, ten Texas colleges offer the economical degrees, from Texas A&M University in San Antonio to the University of Texas at Arlington. Eight programs have already started; two more are slated for fall 2013.
The bulk of these degrees are in engineering, math, science and technology. With tuition at about $2,500 per year, these cut-rate programs run substantially below the average annual tuition for a Texas public school ($7,004 for in-state students in 2011, or slightly below the national average). Whether they offer a good value is hotly contested.
“This is an educational gimmick,” says Kim Quaile Hill, a professor of political science at Texas A&M. He argues that the programs may rely on larger classes, less-prestigious professors and restrictions on elective coursework.
Gimmick or not, the curriculum won’t look like your typical discussion-based liberal arts course of study. Instead, the programs incorporate online instruction and competency-based exams (in which students advance at their own pace).
Although $10,000 degrees could catch on in other states, don’t expect many top schools to offer them, says Hill. According to the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, it costs just over $12,000 a year to support a single student at a four-year public institution.