The $10K Degree – Some Inspiring Examples

Faculty (great authors) who teach at St. John's College

Before I conclude this series of 12 posts, let me share some of the examples that I am aware of that have helped shape my thinking about what a new institution of higher ed might look like. Not all of these are low-price providers (see post #9 for more of those), but they have something to offer that is not business as usual. In no particular order:

Berea College in Kentucky is a private college in Kentucky, founded in 1855. All students are required to work a minimum of 10 hours per week at various jobs around the campus. Students exchange their labor for reduced tuition and fees, which currently run $910 per year. That’s actually calculated as a tuition of zero, and fees of about $900. Most students receive a four-year tuition scholarship (whether or not they are a star athlete). The college has its own hotel, the Historic Boone Tavern Hotel and Restaurant, which appears to be another profit center for the college plus another work outlet for the students.  Through Berea College Crafts, the public can buy student crafts and other artwork as another money-making operation that keeps the cost of attendance so low.

My former employer, Lake Superior College in Duluth, Minnesota has a couple of good examples to draw upon.

  • Students in the dental hygiene program participate in the Lake Superior Community Dental Clinic, which provides dental services to under-served and under-insured people in the region that otherwise may not have access to dental care. The Clinic is usually open just two days a month, when dental care is provided by licensed (volunteer) dentists, dental hygienists and dental assistants, as well as LSC’s dental hygiene students.
  • Students in the physical therapist assistant program at LSC, along with physical therapist students from the neighboring College of Saint Scholastica, along with licensed physical therapists, offer low-cost therapy services two days a week on the LSC campus. As stated in the Wave, “Physical therapy services are available to the general community for a $10 fee at Lake Superior College. For LSC students, staff and faculty, the services are available at no charge.”
The College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Missouri has earned the nickname of Hard Work U. As it states on their website: “Students don’t pay tuition at C of O! How does that work?” Their answer is in this arithmetic:
  • “Work Program + Federal and State Grants + College of the Ozarks Scholarship = Your annual tuition!”
Continuing from their site: “Each student participates in the on-campus work program for 15 hours per week and two forty-hour work weeks. Earnings from participation in the work program, plus any federal and/or state aid for which students qualify, plus a College of the Ozarks Cost of Education Scholarship combine to meet each student’s full tuition charge.”

Western Governor’s University (WGU) has eschewed the standard seat-time college credit system for a competency-based system of earning degrees. Some of their stated advantages include:

  • Demonstrating competency allows students to not sit through (and pay for) courses where they already have obtained that basket of knowledge and skills.
  • Opportunities to accelerate your time to degree through prior experience and/or hard work allow students to save money and move on to their next goal (employment, further education, or ??) more quickly.
  • Competency-based assessment is widely accepted by employers since that is the method that most corporate training is based upon.
Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington has several things going for it, although a low price tag is not one of them. It is a public college, so the rates aren’t too exorbitant.  They pride themselves on being a very green college, and are highly-rated by all kinds of different sources, but the thing that attracts me the most is that they do not use letter grades. For grading purposes, faculty create narrative evaluations for the work done by students during the semester.

Bard College at Simon’s Rock, (nicknamed Simon’s Rock College) is a baccalaureate institution located in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Simon’s Rock is one of several “early college” institutions in the U.S., where students are allowed to enroll after completing the 10th or 11th grade, rather than after high school graduation.

St. John’s College is located in both Santa Fe and Annapolis. As stated on their website: “St. John’s College is a co-educational, four year liberal arts college known for its distinctive ‘great books’ curriculum.” Check out the graphic at the top of the post about their “faculty.” It continues:

  • The all-required course of study is based on the reading, study, and discussion of the most important books of the Western tradition. There are no majors and no departments; all students follow the same program.
  • Students study from the classics of literature, philosophy, theology, psychology, political science, economics, history, mathematics, laboratory sciences, and music. No textbooks are used. The books are read in roughly chronological order, beginning with ancient Greece and continuing to modern times.
  • All classes are discussion-based. There are no class lectures; instead, the students meet together with faculty members (called tutors) to explore the books being read.

These aren’t the only schools that are doing something different and valuable – but it’s a pretty good sample. I offer them as proof that not all institutions of “higher learning” are still operating as if it is 1971 rather than 2011.

Added: 5PM 10/6/2011 – SUNY Empire State College has joined the Open Education Resource university as the first anchor partner in the United States.