Texas’ governor threw out a challenge in 2011 that some in higher education said was impossible to meet. Two years later, Rick Perry says it’s underway.
A May 17, 2013, press release from Perry’s office said, "The governor has renewed his challenge for institutions to offer bachelor's degrees for $10,000 or less, including books. So far, 13 institutions have announced or implemented a $10,000 degree."
Perry first called for such degrees in his Feb. 8, 2011, state-of-the-state address. Public skepticism included a claim from the chairman of the Travis County Democratic Party that "nobody in higher education believes that is even possible," which we rated False, finding not only disagreement but existing $10,000 degrees in Texas and elsewhere.
In 2012, the Austin American-Statesman reported on nine programs that universities had already announced or identified in response to Perry’s challenge. The Aug. 5, 2012, news story said that most of the programs relied on scholarships, financial aid and students amassing credit hours in advance at a lower-tuition institution or for free in high school. Also, few included the cost of books in the $10,000 price tag, the story said.
In 2013-14, the average annual full-time tuition and mandatory fees at a Texas public university are estimated at $7,600, with books and supplies averaging another $1,200, according to Dominic Chavez, a spokesman for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Put another way, the average four-year tab for tuition, fees, books and supplies, provided these estimates do not change, would be $35,200.
So, how many institutions have made $10,000 degree programs a reality since 2011?
Perry spokesman Josh Havens emailed us a list of 13 universities:
University of Texas at Arlington
University of Texas of the Permian Basin
University of Texas at Brownsville
Tarleton State University
Texas A&M University-Commerce
Texas A&M International University
Texas A&M University-San Antonio
Texas A&M University-Texarkana
Angelo State University
Sul Ross State University
University of Houston-Clear Lake
University of Houston-Downtown
University of Houston-Victoria
Chavez emailed us descriptions of each program compiled from news reports and schools’ announcements. We verified information with each university’s representatives or website and got more details.
While we confirmed that each university has a program that offers a degree or degrees with a price tag of $10,500 or less, here’s the big catch: Seven require students to earn up to 87 college credit hours elsewhere and don’t include those costs in the sticker price. (Two require 75 community college hours but include that cost in their price tag.)
The UT-Arlington program, for example, is a partnership with two local school districts in which students earn 24 hours of college credit in high school, move on to get an associate’s degree at Tarrant County College and then finish their bachelor’s degree at UTA. If they manage all that and keep a 3.25 grade point average while getting the associate’s degree, spokeswoman Kristin Sullivan told us, they will get a scholarship that pays all UTA tuition and fees over $10,000.
So, only four universities offer programs where students can start with no hours and earn 120 hours at the university for $10,500 or less. And one of those is an online-only degree that can range from $5,000 to $14,000 depending on how many hours a student can get credit for based on work and other experience (at A&M-Commerce).
Also, the online A&M-Commerce program is the only one of the 13 that covers the cost of books.
Some of the 13 programs offer limited choice or very specific degrees, such as the bachelor’s in information technology with an emphasis on information security at Texas A&M-San Antonio. Others give wider choices -- for example, any degree offered at UT-Arlington.
The two programs that require community college but include that tuition in the sticker price:
UH-Clear Lake: 75 hours at a community college and 45 hours at the university -- costing a total $10,014 to $10,372, depending on the college attended and including $3,835 in Pell grants -- for a bachelor of applied science in early childhood education, health care services or information technology.
UH-Downtown: The same 75/45 split of hours and $3,559 in Pell grants (that’s the average Pell amount awarded to UHD students) yield a cost of $9,116 to $9,801, depending on the college attended, for a bachelor of applied arts and science degree in applied administration or a bachelor of science degree in interdisciplinary studies.
The four programs in which students can amass up to 120 hours entirely from the university that will be issuing their diploma:
UT-Permian Basin: For bachelor of science degrees in chemistry, computer science, geology, information systems or math, students in the university’s Texas Science Scholar Program pay "$10,000 in tuition and fees for the four-year curriculum," not including books, according to the program’s web page.
A&M-Commerce: Up to 120 online hours result in a bachelor of applied science degree in organizational leadership. Students can submit equivalent experience for up to 90 hours of those credits, according to Mary Hendrix, vice president of student access and success. That variability means the cost "will range from $5,000 to $14,000," including books, Hendrix told us by email.
Angelo State: Qualifying students can get a $5,000-per-year scholarship that reduces tuition and fees to $9,974 for a bachelor of interdisciplinary studies degree, according to an Oct. 3, 2012, press release. Texas residents with certain scores or better on one of two college admissions tests (27 on the ACT or 1220 on combined SAT) qualify for the program and the scholarship. University spokesman Tom Nurre said the cost does not include books, and noted transfer students can join if they have a 3.5 or better grade point average.
UH-Victoria: By getting scholarships and completing college in three years, students can earn a $9,999 bachelor’s degree in English, history, communication, psychology, Spanish or criminal justice, said a Jan. 11, 2013, press release. That assumes a UHV scholarship for $1,845 a year plus "the average Pell grant of $3,593 per year"; other scholarships can "help defer costs of books and living expenses."
Perry said 13 Texas institutions had announced or implemented a $10,000 degree.
That count draws on a state-researched list. By our analysis, however, only four programs offer degrees earned entirely at the university whose name is on the diploma for $10,500 or less. Two more universities expect students to attend community college first but pay a total of $10,372 or less at both institutions.
That leaves seven universities that expect students to earn their $10,000 degrees after corraling up to 87 college credits in other ways that presumably cost additional money. Several also require students following the $10,000 degree plans to have income-based Pell grants or to qualify for other scholarships.
These realities are more complicated than the governor suggested. We rate his statement, which has an element of truth, as Mostly False.
Governor’s office press release, "Gov. Rick Perry Applauds Efforts to Improve Affordability at Texas Tech University System and University of Houston System," May 17, 2013
Austin American-Statesman news story, "Governor's $10,000 bachelor's degrees a work in progress," Aug. 5, 2012
Email interviews, excerpted, with Josh Havens, spokesman for Gov. Rick Perry, May 22-31, 2013
Email interviews, excerpted, with Dominic Chavez, senior director, external relations, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, May 23-28, 2013
Telephone and email interviews with Kristin Sullivan, assistant vice president for media relations, University of Texas at Arlington, May 24-31, 2013
Email interview, excerpted, with Travis Woodward, director of communication and special projects, University of Texas of the Permian Basin, May 29, 2013
Email interview, excerpted, with Daniel Perry, informational writer, University of Texas at Brownsville, May 24, 2013
Telephone and email interviews, excerpted, with Mary Hendrix, vice president of student access and success, Texas A&M University-Commerce, May 24-31, 2013
Email interviews, excerpted, with Steve K. Harmon, director, office of public relations, marketing and information Services, Texas A&M International University, May 24-31, 2013
Email interview, excerpted, with Jillian M. Reddish, communications specialist, Texas A&M University-San Antonio, May 24, 2013
Telephone interviews with Bob Bruggeman, manager of communications and alumni affairs, Texas A&M University-Texarkana, May 29-30, 2013
Email interviews, excerpted, with Tom Nurre, news and information specialist, Angelo State University, May 24-31, 2013
Email interview, excerpted, with Karen Barbier, assistant director of media relations, University of Houston-Clear Lake, May 30, 2013
Email interviews, excerpted, with Claire Caton, director of media relations, University of Houston-Downtown, May 29-31, 2013
Email interviews, excerpted, with Katy Walterscheidt, communications specialist, University of Houston-Victoria, May 24-29, 2013
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