Rick Perry

In his State of the State address, Texas Governor Rick Perry puzzled his audience as he called on higher education institutions to create a $10,000 undergraduate degree to ease the financial burden on Texas families and students.

This idea of a $10,000 degree is a challenge, Perry acknowledges, but he believes it can be done.

“It is time for a bold, Texas-style solution to this challenge; the brightest minds in our universities can devise,” Perry said in his address to the State.

Perry suggests that universities implement more “web-based instruction, innovative teaching techniques and aggressive efficiency measures” in order to reach the goal of a $10,000 degree, which includes the cost of textbooks as well.

Perry claims the option of a more affordable college degree will serve as incentive for Texas students to enroll in and, more importantly, graduate from college.

According to The Project on Student Debt, 58 percent of college students who graduate from a public, four-year institution in Texas accumulate about $20,015 in debt. At UTSA, 64 percent of students graduate with roughly $23,000 in student loans. This heavy financial burden, according to the project, causes students to delay graduation dates. Thus, graduating from college becomes a goal that, each year, becomes more out of reach to students due to financial barriers.

The project also reports the main reason low-income, at-risk high school seniors choose not to enroll in college—to avoid accumulating debt. Urban school counselors report that the students’ “fear of debt strongly affects college choices.” Thus, Perry calls for a drastic cut— to $10,000—in the cost of higher education.

Nonetheless, several congressmen, educators and college students are concerned with Perry’s proposal and conclude it is simply impossible. Calling Perry an “all hat but no cattle” type, Texas Congressman Lloyd Doggett brings an important issue to the surface: “In the most recent budget Governor Perry signed, more than $2 billion in higher education funding was either cut or not allocated, and 43,000 fewer students will receive state aid.”

Thus, he questions how Perry expects universities to offer a degree at such a reduced value when, Doggett says, “he also proposes deep cuts in higher education funding.”

Professors also agree that the $10,000 degree is an idea that is far-stretched. Jeanne Reesman, literature professor, strongly feels that this idea is an unrealistic one:

“I do not think a $10,000 bachelor’s degree is possible in Texas or anywhere else, no matter who imagines it is,” Reesman said. All you have to do is look at the incredibly hard work by UTSA administrators to get our budget up enough with the state so that UTSA does not have to charge everything to the students.”

Reesman also disagrees with Perry’s idea to implement more online classes. Incorporating more online classes to cut tuition costs would not be effective for two reasons.

First, online classes simply will not do much to cut costs, Reesman says. “Even if a university went completely online, which is a highly debatable educational idea, UTSA could never price a degree so low.”

Second, she believes online classes will reduce the effectiveness of the learning environment.

“There is a special value to teacher-student interaction, and even though UTSA is growing, it is still a special part of its offerings to students,” Reesman said.

Students are concerned that if the cost of tuition were to decrease significantly, the quality of their education would be sacrificed. Cortney Sinclair, senior marketing major is apprehensive.

“Obviously a $10,000 degree would be a great thing; however, Perry’s ideas to achieve this are unrealistic,” Sinclair said. “Although I am frustrated with the amount of debt I am in, I am willing to go in debt for an outstanding education. I wouldn’t want my education to be sacrificed.”

Some Tier One universities in Texas also worry about the sacrifice. John J. Antel, provost at the University of Houston, reported to Hearst Newspaper’s online chronicle that the university “will not compromise on our long-term goal to build an internationally recognized research university… We must continue the momentum that has recently moved the university to Tier One status.”

Despite opposition, Perry believes in his plan and will not waiver in his philosophy on “accountability, affordability, and accessibility,” as he writes on his website, in terms of higher education.

Nonetheless, congressmen such as Lloyd Doggett want students to know that they are working hard to ease the financial burden for students in ways that are less risky. One of those strategies is Doggett’s American Opportunity Tax Credit, which currently gives students up to $2,500 of the cost of tuition and related expenses per year.

“We must do everything possible to give students the opportunity to achieve as much education for which they are willing to work—to achieve their full, God-given potential,” Doggett said.  

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