NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

College Need Not Be Expensive

February 8, 2013

Despite student debt ballooning into the largest and fastest-growing share of non-mortgage consumer borrowing, affordable options for college are available, says Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute.

  • Inflation-adjusted household income has fallen by 7 percent between 2006 and 2011, while the average real tuition at public four-year colleges has risen over 18 percent, averaging $33,000 in 2011.
  • In light of these trends, some states like Texas, Florida and Wisconsin are considering the $10,000 college degree -- dubbed the 10K-B.A. -- that utilizes distance-learning alternatives to deliver inexpensive courses.
  • Detractors claim that these "worthless degree" 10K-B.A. programs create diploma mills and the online format does not provide the same level of instruction and peer-to-peer interaction that fosters quality learning.

Brooks disagrees and recounts his career in higher education, which culminated in three degrees and zero debt.

  • Brooks attended Thomas Edison State College in Trenton, New Jersey, which, as a virtual college with no residence requirements, allowed him to earn credits without ever meeting a teacher.
  • The college allowed him to take the lowest-priced correspondence courses by mail through other schools like the University of Washington and the University of Wyoming.
  • He completed his degree for a grand total of about $10,000 in today's dollars.

Brooks soon followed his 10K-B.A. with a 5K-M.A., working full time, and eventually a Ph.D as a full-time doctoral fellow in a residential program. Responding to critics who say these distance-learning based degrees are worthless, Brooks notes that his undergraduate education landed him a career as a tenured professor at Syracuse University and the presidency of a Washington research organization.

Brooks admits that the case for the 10K-B.A. is primarily moral, being justified by expanding access to education to those who otherwise could not attain the requisite knowledge and education to build a better life and chase the American dream.

Source: Arthur Brooks, "My Valuable, Cheap College Degree," American Enterprise Institute, January 31, 2013.


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