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,

4 Responses

  1. My question is, how will an employer, or anyone really, know that you only paid $10K for your bachelor’s degree? Sure marketing materials will tout the $10K degree, but would they really put that on your diploma? And would you then put it on your resume? Probably not. You would just say you possess a Bachelor of Science in Business with a specialization in eCommerce from Pitt.

    On the converse side, maybe employers will value a person who has a $10K degree – they can be seen as someone who spends smartly. Especially if the quality of the degree is proven through some measure with external validity.

    We really have to think about the $10K degree as a quality offering – not a bargain from TJ Maxx (name brand degrees at discount prices anyone?). And, IMO, we have to measure and publicly report on the quality metrics used to assess the degree and the students who complete it.

    I also think that the quality of ANY degree varies, even slightly, from degree holder to degree holder. It’s the difference between an A student and a D student (where D = diploma). An A student likely puts more effort into their education and walks away more prepared for the next steps in their life than does a D student. So, you could feasibly hire two graduates from the exact same program, with the exact same courses on their transcript and get far better results from one than the other. I think that translates across degrees no matter the price tag.

  2. Hi Cali, and thanks for the comment. I like your spin on the whole “maybe employers will value someone with a $10K degree” because they were smart to save all that money on their education. So many different lenses that we can look through on this.

    The quality of the $10K is a huge issue as I see it, but not so much the real quality as the perceived quality. I don’t think the general public has much of a clue about quality in higher ed – and it’s clear to me that many inside higher ed are no better informed. We have a helluva time defining it, let alone knowing it when we see it.

  3. I don’t think there is a single market for a baccalaureate degree… there are multiple markets. The vast majority of the nearly 4000 institutions in this country who offer such a degree (and aren’t anywhere near the top of the USNWR rankings) aren’t competing with the upscale institutions. Your question about the prestige of the offering is only applicable, I think, to only a subset of employers, as well. The pertinent questions that should be asked are is it accredited, is it of quality, and most importantly, did the students learn something that can be applied in the workforce.

    BTW, finally getting around to reading your series of posts – I appreciate your deep dive into this hot topic, and I hope to see/engage with you at WCET.

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