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$10G degree deal: Governors push state schools to offer bachelor's bargain

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AP

The $10,000 bachelor's degree could be coming to a campus near you.

What began as a challenge from billionaire Microsoft founder Bill Gates to make college more affordable is now catching on with governors eager to stem spiraling tuition costs and mounting student debt. Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced recently that 23 state-run higher education institutions will soon offer the four-year degree programs for $10,000, following similar calls by Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. At least one lawmaker in California is calling for that state's vaunted university system to embrace the idea, too.

The bargain baccalaureate could prove popular with students and parents, frustrated with ever-mounting tuition costs that can't guarantee jobs for graduates. Nationally, student loan debt tops $1 trillion and the price of going to college has risen 440 percent in the last 25 years, according to Sallie Mae.

“The public has come to realize that the degrees that cost far more than $10,000 aren’t delivering,” said Thomas Lindsay, director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation. “They’ve come to the realization that you don’t get what you pay for.”

Proponents of the plans say the savings can be gleaned by using more web-based instruction, as well as forcing the public schools to be more efficient. The $10,000 degree also may not be available to everyone. Under one model being implemented in Texas, only high school students who graduate with at least a 2.5 grade-point average and complete at least 30 hours of college credit are eligible. They then a spend a year at Southwest Texas Junior College before completing their degrees at Sul Ross State University Rio Grande College, where they must maintain a 3.0 grade-point average and take 15 hours of classes per semester. If those criteria are met, students can graduate with a bachelor’s degree in biology, chemistry or mathematics.

Florida's Scott announced last month that 23 state institutions are working to develop similar programs, as is Wisconsin's Walker.

“Higher education is key to helping our students succeed in the 21st century economy and to grow jobs in Florida,” Scott said in a statement. “It is important our students can get an affordable education, and our state colleges have stepped up to the challenge to find innovative ways to provide a quality education at a great value. Our goal should be that students do not have to go into debt in order to obtain a degree — and today’s announcement of nearly all of our state colleges meeting this challenge puts us closer to achieving that goal for our students and families.”

In California, Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Linda, recently introduced two bills aimed at bringing college costs down to $10,000. Last week, he urged the state's college students to back what he calls the Affordable College Act.

“The public has come to realize that the degrees that cost far more than $10,000 aren’t delivering."

- Thomas Lindsay, director, Texas Public Policy Foundation

“Students have some of the most powerful voices when it comes to getting involved in government,” said Logue. “I’m introducing these bills for them, and for their families. In this economic climate, the best thing students and families can hope for when it comes to a college education is predictability of costs. I hope my bill will be the beginning of a revolution to the very pressing issue of the rising costs of education that students and families face these days.”

The national average tuition for a four-year private university, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, is nearly $33,000, and the median inflation-adjusted household income dropped 7 percent between 2006 and 2011 as the average tuition at public four-year college skyrocketed 18 percent. Daunting statistics like those and a tight job market are forcing many to reassess what they’re paying for, said William Jacobson, a professor of law at Cornell Law School.

“Almost every day in the newspapers there’s a story about student debt problems and how it’s influencing life decisions,” Jacobson said. “You’re essentially getting two classes of people coming out of higher education: those who have overwhelming student debt and those who do not. That’s affecting life decisions, including which jobs to take, even if they’re available, and whether they can afford to raise a family.”

But some critics of the $10,000 degree have dubbed the effort "Walmarting of education," claiming that would likely rely more on online courses and say it could lead to a less effective education, an issue Jacobson acknowledged.

“You lose the interaction with the professor and interacting face to face with other students,” Jacobson said. “I do think you lose a lot. Some of my most educational experiences have been interactions with professors. I would not argue you get as much out of the online, $10,000 degree as you do with the traditional model, but the traditional model is not affordable to many people anymore.”

According to a 2012 study by Lindsay, the average student now takes five-plus years to graduate and accumulates roughly $26,500 of student-loan debt. Combined with an uncertain job market, the cost has prompted some high school graduates to question whether college is a wise choice.

“Student demand may be changing as a function of doubts about the cost and the return of the traditional path,” said Andrew P. Kelly, a research fellow on education policy studies at American Enterprise Institute. “People have begun to raise more questions as to whether this massive investment is worth it anymore. I would say yes — it’s almost certainly true — but if there were alternative ways to get [a degree] with lower costs, I think the concerned customer in the market would gravitate toward those.”

Unfortunately for the pocketbooks of freshmen nationwide, however, several education experts contacted by FoxNews.com said the $10,000 bachelor’s degree will not become the new normal anytime soon.

“It’s way too soon to say,” Jacobson continued. “You will see some of these programs developing, but I think it will be a long time before it becomes the norm because university costs are a lot more, on average, than $10,000 per year. I don’t see how if $30,000 or $50,000 a year isn’t covering your costs how you can offer a $10,000 degree.”

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