The $10K Degree – If I Were King

This is the tenth post in the series of twelve. In this and the next two posts, I’ll put together my thoughts for how a $10K degree institution could work. All posts are categorized as $10K Degree.

As I’ve been looking at this issue of the $10K degree, several things have risen to the top for me. So, if I were king and could create a new institution for learning, these would be some of my points of light. In no particular order:

  • There’s nothing magical about $10,000 as a goal. What we’re really talking about here are affordable baccalaureates that don’t saddle students with mountains of debt, and which will hopefully position them to be employable in their chosen fields and/or well prepared for further schooling.
  • There are already some traditional opportunities (in other words, schools that approach education in the old-school way) where the price of a four year degree is pretty close to the $10K mark in the first place. See the last post for more info. This new venture would not resemble those traditional opportunities – which is a good thing, in my opinion.
  • I believe that we are talking about students who were not the high achievers in high school or other educational endeavors. High-achievers will be going elsewhere because they can (more in post 6 of the series). Therefore, I really do think we are talking about students who would typically be drawn to a community college environment – and now we’re looking at how to give them a more advanced degree in that same sort of environment. All students will be welcomed, but the target audience will be those who cannot get into a top-tier school, or who just don’t want to.
  • The $10K University (abbreviated 10KU going forward) won’t get involved in very much cutting-edge research. They may get involved in a fair amount of applied research in areas where the students will be studying – in fact most of the research would be done by the students with a guiding hand from the faculty. (More on academic research in post 8.) 10KU won’t be an R1 university. It won’t pretend to be an R1, and it won’t want to be an R1. It will be an S1 institution of higher learning – where S1 stands for Students First!
  • 10KU will use technology to enhance learning, but it will not be an online-only university or rely heavily on fully online courses. There’s plenty of those options out there already.
  • 10KU will seek to partner heavily with local secondary schools. Even for the average high school students (not the high-achievers, remember?) it can be possible to create a better dovetail between the last two years of high school and the first two years of college. 10KU will help high schools graduate better educated citizens while also helping assure a solid pathway for those students to college degrees and potentially multiple different careers.
  • Speaking of multiple careers, 10KU will have a heavy emphasis on lifelong learning. 10KU grads will have several learning strategies in their pocket that will enable them to stay on top of their career fields as well as shift into other career paths as needed or desired. Or, to just learn for the sheer joy of learning.
  • No one will graduate from 10KU without having demonstrated a good grasp of the all-important “soft skills.” Much of the learning at 10KU will be centered around the following types of skills:
    • communications of many different varieties
    • critical thinking
    • interpersonal skills
    • problem-solving
    • leadership abilities
    • etiquette and netiquette
    • networking and social networking
    • conflict resolution
    • self-motivation and self-discipline
    • personal finance and money management
    • people skills, including customer service
  • No one will graduate from 10KU without a basic grounding in small business skills and/or entrepreneurship. Most if not all of the programs offered are naturals for graduates to run their own businesses and be their own boss. Even if they go to work for the man, most of this knowledge base is still incredibly useful to anyone as they go through life.
  • 10KU will be competency-based. The length of time that it takes someone to complete will not be measured by weeks on the calendar, but by the achievement and demonstration of the expected competencies. The term “4-year degree” will not be used as it will only confuse. No credit hours, no semesters or quarters – you proceed at your pace as you gather evidence of having achieved the competencies.
  • The amount of service learning and active learning will be extremely high. In fact, 10KU will be all about service to the community and involving everyone on the learning experience.
  • 10KU will be a significant departure from almost all of the colleges and universities that I am familiar with. Therefore, we will need to build a whole new ship (see post #4). It might be possible to retrofit a current institution, but I’m afraid that the existing facilities would not be very conducive to the 10KU style of learning, to say nothing of the existing mindset.
  • 10KU will rely exclusively on Open Educational Resources and other types of freely available learning materials – when such learning materials are actually needed. When students pay their tuition they are paying for everything. No surprise add-ons at the college bookstore – no parking fees – no technology fees (this is 2011, just look at a calendar) – not anything that faintly resembles the “we found a new revenue stream and now we’re going to milk it!” mentality.
  • 10KU will have a tuition guarantee. When you enroll at 10KU your tuition rate (per competency or per bundle of competencies) will be a known figure going forward. Whether it takes you two years, four years, or six years to master your learning competencies – you’ll know what you need to pay. Prices might go up for the next incoming batch of students, but they won’t go up for you after you’ve started.
  • Most of the employees at 10KU will be instructional staff. Some employees may very well have split duties – some of which is instructional and some non-instructional. Everyone at 10KU will be responsible for helping students achieve their goals, and every employee will know that this is an expected part of their jobs.
  • Faculty members are expected to lead students through the learning process so that the students gain the required competencies. Other employees will be responsible for assessing student progress in reaching these goals. Faculty members have an inherent conflict of interest in evaluating their own students. Independent assessment professionals will determine when students are ready to move on.
  • Intramural sports? Sure, why not, if inexpensive facilities are available. Intercollegiate sports? Nope. (see post #7 for more) If you really need a football team to cheer for, you can go to KU rather than 10KU. (Go Devils!! Fork ‘Em!!)

In the next post I’ll give you some real examples of what pieces of 10KU might look like. In the final post, I’ll try to tie it together with a snapshot of what 10KU would really look like.

The $10K Degree – How Close Are We Now?

This is the ninth post in the series. Probably about 3 more coming soon. Then I’ll be all tuckered out. The next 3 will lay out my vision for a college with $10,000 baccalaureates. All posts are categorized as $10K Degree.

We know that we are nowhere close to the $10K degree when we are talking about the vast majority of universities, both public and private. But how close are we to having affordable degrees right now with the current offerings that students could choose from, if they live in the right states and all the stars line up just right?

It’s impossible for me to cover all of the low-cost (actually, low-price) providers in the higher ed space, but I’ll provide a few examples that I am aware of. Since the $10K degree target is for tuition/fees/books – I’ll estimate $900 per year for books regardless of the school under consideration.

Let’s say you take the first two years at a community college. Here are some schools I’ve found with low tuition.

1) Victor Valley CC in Victorville, California. In-state tuition/fees = $38/cr. (out-of-state = $214/cr.)
California schools are still a great bargain for in-state students:

  • $38 * 30 cr. = $1,140 tuition/fees + $900 books = $2,040 per year
  • There are many CC’s in CA with similar price structures. But you need to be a resident, of course.

2) Central New Mexico CC in Albuquerque, NM  In-state tuition = $579 per semester (out-of-state = $3,008)
The tuition/fees page is a bit of a mess, but it looks like:

  • ($579 * 2) + $110 fees + $900 books = $2,168 per year
  • How about that? You can get your first two years (60 credits) for $4,336 and you’ve spent less than half of your $10,000 allocated for the degree. If you’re a New Mexico resident. Most of the other NM colleges are probably about the same.

3) Southeast CC in Beatrice, Nebraska. In-state tuition/fees = $52/cr. (Out-of-state = $64/cr.)
We’ll look at both in-state and out-of-state on this one:

  • 30 cr. * $52 = $1,560 + $900 books = $2,460 per year for Nebraska residents
  • 30 cr. * $64 = $1,920 + $900 books = $2,820 per year for non-residents
  • Some of the other Nebraska colleges are probably in the same ball park. Residents are on track for the $10K degree.

4) Georgia Virtual Technical Connection – the Georgia Technical Colleges.  Tuition = $45/cr. (allegedly)
According to their website: online courses are available at a low price. However, I tried 5 different college websites looking for info about low tuition for online courses and came up empty.  If I find it, I’ll update here. Pretty sure you’ll run into some transfer issues here for getting years 3 and 4 at a university (please correct me, if needed).

A couple others fall short of the target of no more than $2,500 per year.

5) Eastern Wyoming College in Torrington, WY. Resident tuition = $852 per semester for 15 credits.
For Wyo resident: ($852 * 2) + ($384 * 2 fees) + $900 books = $3,372

6) Portland CC in Portland, OR.  In-state tuition/fees = $85/cr. (Out-of-state = $211/cr.)
For OR (& surrounding states) residents: (30 cr. * $85) + $900  = $3,450

So, if you’re thinking about the first 2 years at a CC or TC, it looks like you have a few options, if you live in the right states. If you don’t, then the closest you can come (that I know of) is to hang out at the DQ in Beatrice, Nebraska for 2 years and spend 56.4% of your $10K allocation on tuition, fees, and books.

Now what are your options for years 3 & 4 to finish the baccalaureate? Some of the cheapest upper level (years 3 & 4) tuition and fee rates that I have found include:

If you happen to live in any of these states, the in-state tuition/fees are lower than most: (USN&WR)

  • New Mexico Highlands University: Tuition/fees of $2,952 + $900 books = 3,852
  • Macon State College (GA): $3,082 + $900 = $3,982
  • Cal State Northridge: $3,702 + $900 = $4,602
  • University of Wyoming: $3,726 + $900 = $4,626

If you don’t live in those states, or if your heart is set on going away to college, as an out-of-state student, then consider these:

  • New Mexico Highlands University: Tuition/fees of $4,652 per year + $900 books = $5,552
  • MN State Moorhead:  $6,918 + 900 = $7,818
  • Several others in the $7,000 range – check out USN&WR

BYU-Idaho is an interesting option. Doesn’t matter if you are in-state or out-of-state. It does matter whether you are an LDS faithful, or not. LDS students pay only $1,835 in tuition and fees per semester. Non-LDS pay double that. (Private school of course, so they can make their own rules – nothing wrong with that.) For LDS students, that would be $4,570 per year.

The best deal I can find is for students who are New Mexico residents.

  • Years 1 & 2 at a CC like Central New Mexico = $2,168 + 2,168 = $4,336
  • Years 3 & 4 at New Mexico Highlands = $3,852 + 3,852 = $7,704
  • Total cost for tuition/fees/books  $12,040

That’s pretty close to the arbitrary target of $10,000. It also assumes no price increases during the 4 year period – that you pass every class you take – that you never take a class that you don’t need – and that you come to the CC fully ready for college-level work (no remedial classes allowed) – and for heaven’s sake DON’T CHANGE YOUR MAJOR!!

California residents could do it for $13,284. Wyoming residents could do it for $15,996. Residents of any state could do it as an out-of-state student for $16,744 with two years in Nebraska and 2 years in New Mexico.

One last thing before I close. What about a bachelor’s degree from a school that is one of those 2yr/4yr hybrids? Several of the Florida Colleges now offer baccalaureate degrees which is why all their names changed recently along the lines of Sunshine State Community College becomes Sunshine State College.

For example: you decide that you want to earn a degree by attending Daytona State College for all 4 years.

  • Years 1 & 2: $2,768 + 2,768 = $5,536
  • Years 3 & 4: $3,010 + 3,010 = $6,020
  • Total cost for tuition/fees/books  $11,556 (Florida residents)

Wow! And I nearly forgot about this option. Turns out to be the closest I’ve found to the $10,000 target. Then there’s a whole host of other good colleges in the same system: St. Petersburg College, Miami Dade College, Broward College, Florida State College at Jacksonville, and the list goes on and on.

Many other schools are members of the Community College Baccalaureate Association. But I’m really tired of hunting down low-price providers, so you can take it from here. Feel free to leave a comment if you know of other low-price colleges and universities that come close to providing the $10K baccalaureate.

Just so I don’t have to edit the stuff above (again!) – here’s the best deals I found:

  1. Florida residents can learn B.S. for about $11.5K
  2. New Mexico residents can learn B.S. for about $12K
  3. California residents can learn B.S. for about $13K
  4. Out-of-state students (as shown above) for about $17K

There a few colleges that have a different model where students basically work their way through school. These are very interesting and will be looked at in an upcoming post. Examples include Berea College (KY), College of the Ozarks (MO), Alice Lloyd College (KY), and others.

The $10K Degree – What About Scholarly Research?

This is the eighth post in a series of undetermined length. All posts are categorized as $10K Degree.

Let’s say that the mythical Rick Perry University (RPU) will be offering $10,000 baccalaureate degrees to those students who decide that RPU is just the type of educational opportunity they’ve been looking for (whatever that might be).

Can RPU afford to do much scholarly research and still keep their costs down to a level that allows for $10,000 tuition over 4 years? Some faculty and other academic researchers are able to attract external funding for special research projects. Those external funding sources can often result in some dollars making their way into the general fund, thereby helping pay the costs of running the institution and keep down the price of tuition. That’s one avenue for funding academic research.

The other main avenue for academic research is just the standard requirement related to “publish or perish.” In this case, almost all tenured and tenure-track professors (especially those of the Assistant or Associate varieties) are expected to spend a significant amount of their perspiration on the creation of scholarly research that gets published in the various academic journals (that nobody else in the world reads). The cost of this research is paid for from the general budget – it’s just part of the salaries paid to those employees. When I say that it comes from the general budget – that means that it comes from student tuition dollars and taxpayers funds from the state allocation.

Academic Research: Cost? In the Billkions. Value? Somewhat less than that.

Previously I posted some thoughts about whether it makes sense for public institutions (and the taxpayers and students who fund them) to pay such large sums for research. The field that I picked on was my former teaching field – Accounting. One question posed was “why should the state of Minnesota (insert your state here) pay a hundred (or more) people to conduct research in accounting?” Wouldn’t 2 or 3 accounting researchers pretty much cover it? That would still be 100-150 public employees doing accounting research when you factor in 2 or 3 from each of the 50 states. And doesn’t that still sound like a lot more than what is really needed?

Faculty workloads vary considerably throughout the academy. At the universities where I have worked, the typical load for a professor is 6 credits of teaching per semester, and the rest engaged in research and “service.” Any teaching done above 12 credits in the year is considered overload and they receive additional pay. This is generally considered to be about a 50% teaching commitment and 50% research. YMMV.

Caveat #1 – a fairly large percentage of faculty researchers that I have met (and worked with) over the years can’t teach their way out of a paper bag. So, proposing that they teach more is a double-edged sword. But here I go.

What would be the financial impact of changing to a teaching-first type of workload for a university department? Let’s say that the accounting department at State U has 10 full-time professors. With each of them on a 50/50 teaching/research workload, the State U has the equivalence of 5 full-time researchers and 5 full-time classroom instructors, teaching a total of 120 credit hours per year (10 profs * 12 credits each).

What if we changed the mix as follows:

  • 8 faculty teach for 100% of their workload = 192 credit hours taught  (24 cr./yr * 8 faculty)
  • 1 faculty member does the 50/50 split = 12 credit hours taught
  • 1 faculty member does 100% research (your “best” researcher who might really make a difference)

Out of those 10 faculty members you are now getting 204 credits taught during the typical year instead of 120. That means that an additional 84 credits (or twenty-eight 3-credit classes) are now taught by your tenured faculty rather than adjuncts and other hangers-on (phrase deleted for being too snarky. Sorry.). Can I just tell you that we are talking about a huge savings per year, or do I need to calculate it for you? Okay, maybe later.

Let me also refer to a study titled “Faculty Productivity and Costs at the University of Texas at Austin” by Vetter, Matgouranis, and Robe.  (17 page PDF) In this study, the authors looked at the 2009-2010 salary data that was made public by UT.  I’ll quote from their executive summary (pg.3):

Recently released preliminary data from the University of Texas strongly suggest that the state of Texas could move towards making college more affordable by moderately increasing faculty emphasis on teaching. Looking only at the UT Austin campus, if the 80 percent of the faculty with the lowest teaching loads were to teach just half as much as the 20 percent with the highest loads, and if the savings were dedicated to tuition reduction, tuition could be cut by more than half (or, alternatively, state appropriations could be reduced even more—by as much as 75 percent).  Moreover, other data suggest a strategy of reemphasizing the importance of the undergraduate teaching function can be done without importantly reducing outside research funding or productivity.

A couple of other tidbits from the study:

  • 20% of the UT faculty teach 57% of the student credit hours. Let’s call them the “Top 20%.”
  • 20% of the faculty teach 2% of the student credit hours. Let’s call them the “Bottom 20%.”
    • You might think that the bottom 20% would generate more of UT’s research funding than the top 20%. You would be wrong.
  • 2% of the faculty generate 57% of the research funding.
  • The 2% mentioned directly above still teach about the average amount of student credit hours as the rest of the faculty.
    • Is it just me, or does it seem that the other 98% should have some time on their hands where they could teach a lot more to earn their salaries?

Yes, I know that this will be perceived by some as an anti-research rant. I’m not against academic research at all. I just have a very different perspective of how much is needed/wanted. I’d say that generally speaking, the amount of faculty time and salaries spent engaged in academic research is too much – by a factor of – say, 5 times! That’s right. I’m thinking we could do 20% of the current amount of research (led mainly by our “best” researchers), devote the rest of our resources to teaching (and hire faculty who know what they’re doing in the classroom) and we’d be able to keep the cost of tuition down to a reasonable amount.

Keep in mind that I’m really only talking about state-funded universities here. If private schools want to engage in an absurd amount of research and can afford to do so – more power to ’em. The faculty who really don’t want to teach can get jobs with the privates. Taxpayer dollars would be better spent in funding excellent teaching at the public universities, and student tuition rates could be kept at much lower levels.

I know that I’m wrong about this, but I’m not sure why. Any comments you would like to leave to help me see the light would be most appreciated.

The $10K Degree – Comparing University and College Prices

This is the seventh post in a series of undetermined length. All posts are categorized as $10K Degree.

If the first two years of a $10K degree are taken at a community college, a student should be pretty much on track for a $10,000 baccalaureate. Then the university tuition kicks in for years 3 and 4. The average in-state undergraduate tuition at a 4-yr school is roughly three times what it is at a CC (see post #5 for more details).

So why are the 4-yr universities so much more expensive than the 2-yr colleges? There’s a whole host of reasons, but here are some of them:

  • Many more faculty with doctorates at a university – and positions requiring a doctorate naturally pay more than positions requiring a master’s degree (which is the most common degree held by CC faculty).
  • As I’ve already indicated in previous posts, university faculty teach about half as much as college faculty. They generally have higher salaries and generally teach a lot less – therefore, the faculty salary cost per student taught is much larger at universities than at colleges. They teach less because they are expected to pursue academic research – which is the topic of the next post in the series.
  • Most universities have many more and much larger facilities than most 2-yr colleges. You can find some exceptions to the rule – but that rule is still a pretty good one.  Big, lavish buildings cost a lot of money. How important are the jogging trails, climbing walls, fabulous landscaping, beautiful student lounges and game rooms? Colleges have some of this stuff, but not to the extent that you find it on university campuses.
  • Most universities spend much more lavishly on athletics than do theSun Devils football colleges. Some colleges have athletics (without spending that much on them – there are no million dollar coaches at the colleges), but many colleges have no athletics at all. There’s probably a university out there that has no athletic teams, but I haven’t heard of them. And most universities lose money on their athletics – so students either pay more for tuition or pay a special athletics fee – or both. If you want a very good and long reading on the deplorable status of college sports, check out the Atlantic article: “The Shame of College Sports.” For the record, I love college sports. However, if I’m going to be practical about it, the whole thing has very little to do with educating our citizens.
  • Most universities have a much larger non-instructional staff per student than do colleges. I’m talking about the number of administrators, secretaries, custodians, lab assistants, middle managers, etc. I’ve been looking for some research to back up this claim, and when I find it, I’ll stand down if I’m wrong. But I think I’m right. (See notes 1 & 2 below)
  • Just the cost of security alone at universities is often an enormous amount of money. They have the equivalent of their own police force scouring the campus, ever vigilant against the freshman prankster. Colleges have security also, but most of these are bare bones staff or of the rent-a-cops variety. (Just wondering: why don’t universities have their own fire department, too?)
  • In short, everything is just bigger and more expensive at the typical state university than at the typical state college. Tuition, on average, costs the student about 3 times as much at a university than at a college.

The Question: Are all the trappings at the typical university worth the cost of the extra tuition to the students?

NOTE 1: as one example for bloated cost of non-instructional staff, check out the University of Michigan flagship campus in Ann Arbor where Wolverine administrators received over $366 million in pay during 2009-10. The total allocation of state funds to the U that year was $325 million – which doesn’t even cover the pay for administrators. This doesn’t include all the other non-instructional staff. This situation would never occur at a 2-year college – or even anywhere close to it.

NOTE 2: for sheer numbers of non-instructional employees, check out Michigan State University as another example. Fall 2010 showed 4,921 faculty positions (that includes adjuncts and anyone else teaching a class), and 6,220 non-instructional employees. In that case, 44% of the total positions were faculty, with 56% non-instructional. My former employer ( a 2-yr school) had 292 faculty out of 551 total positions for 53% faculty, 47% non-instructional (in 2010).

BTW, I’m not trying to pick on the Michigan universities. It’s just that their data was easy to find – and many of the other schools I looked at had no data available at all.

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The $10K Degree – is it for Marginal Students?

This is the sixth post in a series of undetermined length. All posts are categorized as $10K Degree.

One of the questions that I posed at the SREB meetings is “who is this degree opportunity intended for?” It is my contention that the $10K degree will not be appealing to those top students who are able to enroll at top universities and can afford to pay full price or who have enough financial aid available to them that they can actually afford to attend these schools.

  • Tuition/fees/books to attend Harvard = $37K * 4 yrs. = $148,000
  • Tuition/fees/books to attend U of Chicago = $38.5K * 4 yrs. = $154,000
  • Tuition/fees/books to attend UCLA = $15K * 4 yrs. = $60,000


  •   Tuition/fees/books to attend Rick Perry University = $2.5K * 4 yrs. = $10,000

Let’s assume that students who get accepted into Harvard, Chicago, and UCLA can also get accepted in the Rick Perry University (RPU). Now they have a choice to make. I’m guessing that 99.9% of those who get accepted to the first three schools are going to try everything they can think of to pay the price of attendance.

C student report cardIn other words, I don’t believe that RPU will be an attractive alternative to the high-achieving students. I’m also not saying that it should be an attractive alternative. This is not a value judgment; I’m just trying to be realistic.

The point I’m trying to make is that we have to plan RPU to properly serve the students who are going to be attracted to it. In my opinion, those are the C students and below (from high school) or those returning students with very low self-confidence about their ability to succeed in a rigorous academic program (this is directly related to the perception issue of the $10K degree schools, I’m not saying that they wouldn’t be rigorous). Of course I could be wrong, but humor me for a bit.

Many of the proposals at the SREB meetings had to do with alternative means of earning credits:

  • Dual enrollment credits or “College in the Schools” (CiiS)
  • Credit for prior learning (CPL)
  • Credit by exam  (CBE)

The idea was for most of the students to earn these alternative forms of credits, which are cheaper than full seat-time classes and speed up the time to completion of the degree.

Here’s the problem.  Average or below average students typically are unable to legitimately earn credits by those means. CiiS is usually** only available to high-achieving students. It stands to reason that high school students who are not able to read and write at the college level are not ready to take college level courses while still in high school. There are plenty of examples where high school students have completed an AA or AS degree while still in high school, but those are high achieving students for whom high school is largely a waste of their academic talents. Getting two years of college out of the way (with no tuition charges) certainly makes it easier to reach the $10K price target – but it’s just not realistic for average and below average achievers.

CPL?  Credit for prior learning is relevant to those non-traditional students who have some life and work experiences that might be worthy of being transcripted. However, most colleges already have these mechanisms in place and they rarely, if ever, are able to serve the new, first-time, college entrants. These people don’t have any experience that will earn them CPL. Seems to me that this is much ado about nothing.

CBE?  See the argument about the validity of CiiS above. Same thing here. Average and below average high school students are not going to fair well in trying test out of college credits. Above average students aren’t going to be interested in RPU – so this isn’t part of a viable solution either.

So, if we’re not talking about high achieving students being attracted to the RPU’s of the world, just what are talking about? Sounds to me like we’re talking about something similar to applied bachelor’s degrees in technical fields – and if so, do we really need that?

** NOTE: when I made this statement at one of the SREB tables (about CiiS only being for high-achieving students), I was quickly informed that in North Carolina they do offer CiiS to low performing students – in fact, they said that there had been some sort of legislation passed requiring them to do so. This is an interesting concept that I want to look into more deeply, but it strikes me on the surface as being aimed at those H.S. students who may be on track for entering a 2-yr technical college program. Many of the AAS degree programs still require college level reading and writing, but not all do. I’ll maintain my opinion for now that CiiS is “almost entirely” aimed at high achieving students. And RPU will not be attractive to those same students.

The $10K Degree – How High is This Hurdle?

This is the fifth post in a series of undetermined length. All posts are categorized as $10K Degree.

Trying to run the high hurdles is a challenge. It becomes more of a challenge as they continue to raise the hurdles to new heights. College prices also continue to explode to new heights. I’m going to share two little tidbits of data that help illustrate how high the hurdle is for the mythical $10,000 baccalaureate degree.

Textbooks and Other Class Materials

The data used in the SREB meetings indicate that the average spent on textbooks and similar course materials are a whopping $4,540.  Keep in mind that this figure assumes that the student completed the degree in four years and with no wasted credits. Therefore, figure in another 20-30% in cost for the true “average student.” Let’s just round off and say five grand.  (CC photo by fófs)

That’s half of the desired price tag. Ouch.

Yesterday I made a webinar presentation about Open Educational Resources and Creative Commons licensing and the advancement of these alternatives to the traditional textbook publishing model. I don’t see any other way of getting to the $10K degree without utilizing OER in a major way. As in 100% of the course materials would need to be OER or similar. The cost to the student needs to be reduced to zero, or very near that.

This is not the most outlandish idea ever, except maybe to bookstore managers and CFO’s who have come to rely on bookstore profits. Does the K-12 system charge each student for textbooks? Not that I’m aware of. It’s a cost of doing business that they absorb. Do they want to pay higher and higher prices for textbooks? Pretty sure they don’t, which is why OER are getting more and more attention in the secondary schools and below.

Public University Sticker Shock vs. For-Profit Sticker Shock

Lots of people have been beating up on the for-profits lately. Sometimes with good reason, but just as often without any apparent evidence or support. Let’s take a look at some recent data. The National Center for Education Statistics recently published a report titled “Postsecondary Institutions and Price of Attendance in the United States, 2010-11, …” (report PDF) which contains data that is useful to this analysis.

Ask this question of the next 10 people that you see. “Which do you think costs more, an out-of-state student attending the local public university, or that same student attending a private, for-profit university?”

On page 9 of the report you’ll find your answer. On average, being an out-of-state student at the public U costs more than going to a for-profit U.

Public 4-yr U, out-of-state = $15,742 average tuition/fees

Private 4-yr. U , for-profit = $15,700 average tuition/fees

This reminds me of something that a friend of mine from Davenport University said during a conference presentation: “I don’t think there’s that much difference between the for-profits and the ‘for-surplus’ schools.”  I thought that was a brilliant way of changing the conversation about the “not-for-profit” schools.

Not-for-profit schools are really “For-Surplus Schools.”

Similar goals, just different terminology.

To close this post, let’s take a look at the current average tuition/fees for a student, assuming 2 years at the “in-district” community college and two years as an in-state student at the public university. Since this scenario would take four years to play out, I’ll assume a 5% tuition increase each year from the 2010-11 rates.

Yr. 1 @ 2-yr school = $2,716
Yr. 2 @ 2-yr school = $2,852  (assume 5% increase)
Yr. 3 @ 4-yr school = $7,424  (assume 10% increase over current $6,749)
Yr. 4 @ 4-yr school = $7,795  (assume 5% increase over year 3)

Total tuition/fees  =  20,787

So, if books and materials cost the student zero, we “only” need to cut the tuition and fees by about 52% to get them down to $10,000. You might notice that if we could get 4 years of credits at the 2-year school rates – we’re almost there with an average of $10,864 ($2,716 X 4) if we hold tuition constant over four years. But who would want a 4-yr degree from a 2-yr school? Oh, that’s right, it’s already happening. We’ll look at that in an upcoming post.

The $10K Degree – Build a Completely New Ship?

This is the fourth post in a series of undetermined length. All posts are categorized as $10K Degree.

Regarding change in higher ed, it’s often said that “it’s like trying to turn a cruise ship around.” Trying to get people to stop using that phrase is like pulling teeth (and everyone knows how hard that is, right?).

So if bringing the price of baccalaureate degrees down to $10,000 is like trying to turn the ship around after it has a full head of steam – maybe we need to build a new ship. To successfully pull off the $10K degree, will we need to create a new university from scratch?

I sorta, kinda, maybe think the answer is yes.

The group at the SREB meeting summarily dismissed this idea before the meetings ever started. Most of the attendees completed a very long survey prior to the meeting that asked their opinions about 39 different factors that had been selected as being relevant to the question of how to create a $10K degree. Respondents rated each of those factors for both  importance and uncertainty from high to low.

Factor #5 was stated as: “Establish a new institution to offer $10K degrees.”

Factor #5 was rated as the lowest in importance of all 39 factors – by a wide margin.

Furthermore, none of the planning groups proposed a new institution as part of their solution for reducing tuition through major cost savings. Instead, the proposed changes were mainly aimed at reducing instructional costs (see previous post for more details) by having more online classes, more alternative means of earning credits, less expensive faculty, getting more teaching out of the faculty through more sections taught and larger class sizes, and the like. Most of those ideas are extremely hard to implement when the ship is already sailing around the world. They’re not as hard to implement when creating something from scratch. Hiring people to work under a given set of parameters is much easier (and successful) than trying to change the parameters for those already hired. Want to have a university with a minor research component instead of a major one? Then don’t start with a current research university.

Case in point would be Western Governor’s University. When it was created, it was designed for a different learning assessment paradigm. They jettisoned the credit hour for competency-based learning, an idea that I think has a great deal of merit. However, can you imagine how much harder it would have been to change an existing university, say the University of Minnesota into a competency-based system? Harder by a magnitude of – well, it just wouldn’t have happened.

In the last post, I posed the scenario of Pitt adding a new degree program with a sticker price of $10,000. All their other programs would stay at their current pricing which ranges from about $61K to $77K for a baccalaureate degree (assuming in-state tuition for only four years and no wasted credits). Having different prices at one university is not at all unusual – but of course having such a wide spread (from $10K to $77K) would be very unusual.

It wouldn’t be so unusual though for a brand new institution, with far fewer facilities than normal (lots of online courses, no sports team, lean administration and on-site support services), to start up where all degrees that are available (possibly a limited selection for starters) are offered for $10,000 over four years. It could be done by not allowing yourself to be held hostage to past practices, tradition (very import in the academy, apparently), institutionalized inefficiencies, and all the other non-starters that would come from trying to turn around an existing institution.

It would look very different from almost all existing colleges and universities. And maybe that’s exactly the point. Maybe that’s what’s needed.

(CC Flickr photo By Mark Coggins)

The $10K Degree – Who Wants It?

This is the third post in a series of undetermined length. All posts are categorized as $10K Degree.

Before you can dive too deeply into the pool of discussion around the $10,000 baccalaureate degree, I think you need to clarify several things about the proposed degrees.

  • Are we talking about all degrees for all people? Doubtful.
  • Are we talking about bachelor’s degrees in only certain fields, and if so, who determines which fields would be appropriate?
  • How important is perception? Will these degrees be seen as the Walmart of Education? If so, what types of students will be drawn to such degrees and why?

Regarding perception: there is already a huge gap in the perceived quality of college degrees in the US (and probably beyond the borders). I believe that the quality of the education received at Princeton is not substantially better than the quality received at Arizona State University – but there is a HUGE perception difference in those two degrees for most people. If that’s already true – how low on the perception meter will the branded “$10K degree” be ranked? The absolute bottom of the list, I’m pretty sure.

Consider this scenario. The current cost sticker price for one year in the Business Program at the University of Pittsburgh for tuition, fees, and books is approximately $18,000 (2011-12 tuition of $17,058, plus estimate of fees and books). Therefore, the 4-yr degree costs $72K if you complete it in four years. FWIW, the USN&WR ranks Pitt in the top 20 for public institutions.

What if Pitt added a new business program to their existing mix. Let’s say that they add a degree in e-Commerce, which is a field that they don’t currently offer. Let’s assume that it will not have a significant impact on all the other degree offerings at the university. In a magnanimous gesture, Pitt agrees to start this new program where the tuition/fees/books will cost the student $2,500 per year thus being their first (and only) $10,000 degree. Furthermore, assume that degrees in e-commerce are in demand and that graduates have very good job prospects (and entrepreneurial prospects) for the foreseeable future.

If viewed as lesser, why? It’s still Pitt, right? Or is it? To really have the Pitt experience, do you need to pay $72,000?

If a highly ranked, public institution is going to have perception issues with such a degree, how much worse will it be for graduates of a $10K degree program from schools that are not highly ranked and may already have “less-than” reputations?

I would love to hear your comments about the possible perception problem with the $10K degrees.

(CC Flickr photo By Mike Licht,

The $10K Degree – Reduce Instructional Costs?

Post #2 in a series. ===>>  At the SREB scenario-based planning exercise (see 1st post in series) for the $10,000 baccalaureate degree, the attendees were tasked with reducing tuition, fees, and books from $28K to $10K. They tossed around many ideas at the seven different tables (four tables with this exercise for 4-yr university students, and three with a similar exercise for JR/SR transfer students), and most of their proposals had to do with lowering instructional costs.

It’s not easy to get a handle on which costs are purely instructional and which aren’t. That’s always a problem when trying image of professor from Life of David Galeto determine direct and indirect costs. There’s no such thing as the one correct answer when performing a cost analysis. What some people call a direct cost of instruction, others may call an indirect cost, while still others may call it a non-instructional cost (and none of those can be proven absolutely right or wrong). Having said that, I think that no more than 40% of the total annual costs of a campus can be considered to be direct instructional costs. YMMV.
(Note: 38% was found in a study in the Delta Cost Study using the State University of Florida System – see Table 3 on pg.9)

While the discussion was unfolding, I got the distinct impression that the attendees were only looking for ways to reduce the cost of delivering instruction – sort of like they were operating under the assumption that tuition pays for instructional costs and state allocation (we were only talking about state-supported schools) pays for the other costs. With that rationale, reducing the tuition collected means reducing the instructional costs by a corresponding amount. That’s a bad idea.

cost and revenue brakdowns

One reason that they focused on instructional costs is because that was the data that had been provided for them. They knew about average (different) faculty salaries for 4-yr professors, instructors, and adjuncts as well as the salaries for similar instructional staff at 2-yr schools. It was assumed that 4-yr faculty teach 8 courses per year (that’s way overstated for most universities that I’m familiar with) and 10 courses per year at 2-yr schools (that’s about right). They were working with an average class size of 25 students per class. Additionally, the cost of textbooks and other course materials was estimated at $4,540 for the four years, which comes down to an average of $114 for a 3-credit course.

As you can imagine, many of the suggestions came along the following lines:

  • Reduce textbook costs by going with Open Educational resources (OER) – possibly averaging only $25-30 per 3-credit course for a reduction of $3,340 (from $4,540 to $1,200)
  • Increase class sizes on average from 25 students to 30 students, which would reduce the number of needed sections by 20% (no it wouldn’t, because you can’t just slice these up like that across all disciplines) and thereby reduce the faculty salaries and benefits by 20% (this assumes many things that don’t match reality).
  • Increase teaching loads for tenured and tenure-track faculty by 1 or 2 class periods per year, thereby reducing the number of faculty needed overall.
  • Hire more adjuncts at lower salaries and fewer tenure-track faculty at higher salaries.
  • Offer more classes via online delivery under the assumption that you would reduce your costs (a highly questionable assumption, especially in the short run of the next 3 to 5 years – it takes a long time before you start saving on facilities costs that are basically fixed and already committed).
  • Greatly increase the number of courses that students will get credit for under non-traditional means – such as college in the schools (college credits earned while in high school at no cost to the student), credit for prior learning (CPL), and test-outs of courses where the student is already proficient.
  • Use competency-based instruction rather than butts-in-seats credit hours to reduce the time to completion for most students. Possibly a payment system by the month or by the competency, rather than traditional credits and semesters.

One team came up with a scenario where they reduced the cost of a bachelor degree to about $2,000. They relied very heavily on the alternative means of transcripting credits (CPL, etc.) and had almost no F2F instruction with real faculty members. Their school was dubbed DMU (for Diploma Mill University).

Most of the other scenarios ended up in reduced costs, but didn’t reach the $10K level by saving less than the needed $18K reduction per student over the 4 year period. During a recap of the different possible solutions, I offered three basic ideas that they need to consider:

1) As discussed in post 1 – they had to know if they were cutting down to a $10K sticker price for the students, or a $10K per student cost for the school. They seemed to be mixing those two ideas together as if they were one.

2) Almost all of the suggestions were related to cutting the amount spent on instruction. Reducing salaries via adjuncts, increasing class sizes, and increasing teaching loads resulted in fairly big chunks of cost savings – but would further reduce the instructional costs while leaving the non-instructional costs untouched. That sounds totally backwards to me. Most cuts should come from the non-instructional side of things – and I’m the poster child for those kinds of cuts.

3) There is a huge difference between adding a new program area with a $10K price tag for students at an existing school, and turning a complete institution into $10K degrees. Which are they proposing? Adding a new program (sort of a loss leader – or maybe call it a “pilot project”) would be a way of slowly turning the university around without trying to put on the brakes in the middle of the ocean. One is doable, the other is not very likely at any existing institutions that I know of.

Future posts will take up some of the following ideas/questions (not necessarily in this order):

  1. Does this need to be a new institution, or can we retrofit an existing one?
  2. How deep can we look into the non-instructional cost side of the house when making cuts? Is it possible that all of the needed savings could come from these non-instructional areas? Maybe research and athletics should be set up as external profit centers where they live or die on their own value, just like the bookstore and foundation at many colleges. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
  3. What is the market for $10K degrees? Who wants them? Who will be attracted to them and will they actually enroll? How will they be viewed by employers and others?
  4. How do non-retained students (those who don’t graduate) fit into this puzzle? We’re looking at the cost to graduate someone in four years, what about the costs of those we fail?
  5. When do we bring some reality into the scenario? What are the odds of graduating in 4 years? What about the costs of remediation or will all these students just magically show up ready to do college-level work?
  6. How might the role of the faculty change in a revolutionary way that might lead to a lower cost per student?
  7. What impact does technology have in these scenarios and can it be used to both reduce costs and maintain/improve quality?
  8. What are the quality concerns for a $10K degree? Is the piece of paper more important than actually learning something?
  9. What role does the K-12 system play in making this a reality? What is their incentive to help make this happen?
  10. How does a $10K degree play out when looking at graduate education? Will these graduates be just as well prepared for grad school as people are now (regardless of whether the current level of preparation is high, low, or in-between)?
  11. Are applied bachelor’s degree in technical/vocational areas the only shot for this to really happen? Are they really needed? Even then, these programs tend to be expensive to run because of high-cost equipment, etc. Or are we talking about a completely online liberal arts degree with no facilities/equipment/etc except that needed to teach and learn over the Internet?
  12. Since we’re trying to predict the future – what about the future of state support? Since it used to be more like 70/30 or 65/35 as the breakdown between state$/tuition, but now it’s more like 50/50, how can any of this happen if state funding continues to dry up and blow away?

All this and more in the next installment of “A $10,000 Pipe Dream.”