UPDATE, 2:05 p.m., March 8, 2011: The article below corrects the name of the Midland newspaper.
In a Feb. 22 web post objecting to slashes in education funding, the chairman of the Travis County Democrats sounds a skeptical note about GOP Gov. Rick Perry’s Feb. 8 call on higher education to devise a way that students could earn bachelor’s degrees at a cost of $10,000, including textbooks.
"As for the governor’s preposterous scheme to serve up $10,000 college degrees, nobody in higher education believes that is even possible," Andy Brown writes. "Tuition and books for a single year easily add up to that amount, and tuition likely will increase in the face of state funding cuts."
Granted, four years in college costs a bundle. But no one believes a $10K degree is even possible?
We reached Brown, who said by e-mail that there is "probably someone out there who thinks it is possible at most Texas institutions, so the word ‘credible’ probably should have been included as a modifier" after nobody. "Regardless, it's not a realistic option for most higher ed institutions in Texas," Brown said, "and for Perry to imply otherwise is ridiculous."
Next, we read news accounts following Perry’s State of the State address. Skepticism and uncertainty abound, the reports suggest. On Feb. 10, the Dallas Morning News quoted state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, who chairs the Senate Higher Education Committee, saying that it’s not going to happen.
Among officials in higher education, Mike McKinney, chancellor of the Texas A&M University System, was quoted in the Feb. 12 Austin American-Statesman as telling state senators he has no idea how to meet Perry’s goal. The newspaper said McKinney also testified: "I'm not going to say that it can't be done."
A Houston Chronicle news article, likewise published Feb. 12, says some education leaders say a $10,000 degree could be achieved at community colleges. The article quotes Bruce Leslie, chancellor of the San Antonio-based Alamo Colleges, saying: ""We already have the facilities, the infrastructure, the doctorate faculty. You could take community colleges and do that without building a whole new infrastructure, or forcing existing four-year universities to downsize."
The story quotes Shirley Reed, president of South Texas College in McAllen, saying: "It is an idea that is long overdue." At the college, resident tuition for 120 credit-hours--which colleges typically require to earn a degree--is currently about $7,600, according to its website. According to a Feb. 10 Texas Tribune news article, South Texas College and two other community colleges are already authorized to offer a bachelor’s degree in Applied Technology, costing in the range of $10,000.
Next, we asked the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board if anyone in higher education has rated the $10,000 degree possible. Spokesman Dominic Chavez replied by e-mail: "We interpret the $10,000 degree challenge by the governor as just that—a challenge...The question from the board’s perspective is not ‘is $10,000 the right target or a reasonable target?’ but rather ‘what can we do to get as close to it as possible?’"
For national perspective, we contacted Beth Hagan, executive director of the Florida-based Community College Baccalaureate Association, which seeks to improve access to bachelor’s degrees. Hagan told us bachelor’s degrees costing $10,000 are now available through community colleges in 17 states. However, she said, they generally aren’t in the academic studies available through four-year universities. Besides, she cautioned, very few community college students get the four-year "niche" degrees, which tend to involve technologies or special skills such as nursing or teaching.
Hagan said of Perry’s proposal: "If you asked a group of (community) college administrators and presidents if this could be done, they would laugh at you. Of course, it’s possible." But Perry’s call, she said, was akin to challenging a chain steakhouse to offer $1 hamburgers. "Can they do it? Sure. But they don’t want to."
Perry’s communications director, Mark Miner, called Brown’s statement unfortunate, adding that it’s "just like the establishment to say it can’t be done, without trying." Catherine Frazier, Perry’s deputy press secretary, pointed out a Feb. 10 news article in the Midland Reporter-Telegram describing Midland College’s applied technology bachelor’s degree, which the article says can be earned for about $10,000. The article also says the program might not be funded in the next state budget.
No doubt, there’s skepticism in higher education about Perry’s call. But it’s a stretch to say nobody believes $10,000 degrees possible. Four-year technology degrees at around that price point are already an option for some Texas students.
We rate Brown’s statement False.