In the midst of swelling tuition rates, increased student borrowing, decreased federal funding, and a shaky economy, Governor Rick Perry (Texas) is continuing his call for affordable college degrees at a very specific price point; $10,000. This unique proposal has been a talking point for Governor Perry for two years, and it is now gaining traction in Texas and across the nation. “More and more young Texans of all backgrounds are thinking of college as this vital component of their personal success, they’re taking the active steps to get themselves to that point,” Perry said. “As state officials, we have to do everything that we can to remove the roadblocks.”
The $10,000 plan offers a specific tuition price to achieve, but not many guidelines on how to reach that goal. In Texas, the average annual cost of tuition is $8,354, just under the the national average of $8,655. Getting that cost down to $2,500 per year is no easy feat. Ten schools have already accepted the challenge, but their methods for implementation all look slightly different.
At Angelo State University, admissions are about to begin for a new four-year degree that combines three minors into one bachelors degree. ASU President Joseph Rallo predicts that this program will be resourceful for adults looking to expand their professional skills. “The profile that we aim the degree for is the adult student who is interested in a broad degree and at the same time a degree that would be academically rigorous,” Rallo said. To qualify for the program, students must have an ACT score of 27 or above. They also must maintain at least a 3.0 grade-point average. Another typical plan is being implemented at the University of Texas (Arlington).
At the University of Texas (Arlington), the university teamed up with Tarrant County community colleges and school districts to create a program that would allow students to obtain a degree in any field for less than $10,000. Students in their junior and senior years of high school will complete dual credit programs already provided by their school districts in order to earn some college credit. The students will go on to spend about a year at community college before finishing their degree at UT Arlington.
Some schools are working directly with regional employers to try to fill skill gaps in the community. Some of these programs are little more than thinly disguised merit scholarship programs. Most of these schools are utilizing the low overhead of online courses to supplement their $10,000 program offerings. And recently, Florida Governor Rick Scott has also challenged schools in his state to offer degrees for the same low price of $10,000.
While several $10,000 programs have popped up in response to Governor Perry’s call, critics & experts remain skeptical. “I question an artificially set benchmark of $10,000,” said Daniel Hurley, director of state relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. On its face, the $10,000 goal appears to be a cost-cutting measure, but in practice it doesn’t force schools to restructure their operating procedures. There are no high-level solutions offered to fix the cost problems at colleges and universities. “I would not frame this $10,000 degree challenge as a cost-efficiency measure for higher education,” said Dom Chavez, director of the Texas Higher Education Coordination Board. “It’s a cost-efficiency measure for students and parents.”
Instead of focusing on the price tag, experts say that schools should focus more on getting students to complete their degrees in a timely manner. To address this criticism, Perry has already proposed an outcome-based funding structure, tying 10% of a school’s state funding to the number of degrees awarded.
Most experts and insiders would agree that the $10,000 challenge is not the solution for rising tuition rates and increased costs, but it is definitely spurring innovation in finding cost-effective ways to package a college degree.
On November 10, 2005 an unbelievable announcement was made in the Michigan town of Kalamazoo; anonymous donors had started a scholarship program unlike any other. The Kalamazoo Promise offers all students who graduate from Kalamazoo Public Schools a full scholarship to any Michigan public college; no application necessary, no questions asked.
With one-third of all students falling below the poverty level, the Promise is a boon to the town because of Kalamazoo’s poverty stricken and economically weak status. Throughout its’ history, the city has seen many large employers come & go, and the region has lost more than 16,000 jobs since 2007. Before 2005, Kalamazoo was on the decline and so was the school district. The Kalamazoo Promise program comes with only a few strings.
While the Promise covers all tuition and fees, students are responsible for their own room and board.
Students can use their scholarship for only 4 years or 130 credit hours (whichever comes first), but there is a generous 10 years of flexibility for students to complete their education.
Students who attend Kalamazoo schools from Kindergarten receive full funding, but the later a child joins the district, the less money they receive. For example, a student starting in Kalamazoo Public Schools as a high school freshman will have 65% of tuition covered.
There is no end in sight for the program; all eligible students presently attending KPS in K-12 are guaranteed to receive their scholarships when they graduate high school.
Since the inception of The Promise, Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS) have seen much improvement. Before 2005, enrollment was on a steady decline. After The Promise was announced, Kalamazoo became a much more desirable school district. By 2010, enrollment had swelled by 22%. This increase is a result of families moving to the city so their children can benefit from The Promise and also as a result of families opting out of local private or charter schools. The school district benefits from the influx of students because more students leads to more state funding; each student is worth $7,250 to the district. For every 25 students, a new teacher can be hired. But there are also more meaningful benefits beyond financial incentives. The Promise gives both students and faculty a common goal to work towards. It has instilled a college-going attitude into the culture at KPS. It has given hope to a generation of students who otherwise may not have been able to afford a college education.
The Kalamazoo Promise is much, much more than the most generous scholarship program ever conceived. It is also a grand socioeconomic experiment. Ultimately, The Promise is working towards a long term solution for the many social and economic problems facing the Kalamazoo region. A better educated population earns more money, which leads to a more fruitful local economy. A strong local economy makes the region more desirable to businesses and families alike. Although the great recession has dampened any immediate economic benefits, the long-term effects of The Promise have the potential to be far-reaching.
“Other communities invest in things like arenas or offer tax incentives for businesses or revitalize their waterfronts,” says Michelle Miller-Adams, a political scientist at the W. E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, which is located in the city. “The Kalamazoo Promise tries to develop the local economy with a long-term investment in human capital that is intended to change the town from the bottom up.”
But it is important to keep in mind that The Promise is not a quick fix solution. “The Promise is about affordability, which is huge,” said Janice Brown, executive director of The Promise. “But what we’ve found is that there’s the issue of affordability, and there’s also the issue of everything else.” There are many other factors that could contribute to a student’s ability to receive a college degree, including academic preparedness, personal motivation, teen pregnancy, and family dynamics.
The Promise provides the path to success for students, but sometimes that path has obstacles. It will take a generation for The Promise’s benefits to take full effect in each student’s life and in the community. In the meantime, the community is working on ways to provide support to Promise scholars through investing in early childhood education, mentorships, tutoring, and parent outreach.
Since The Kalamazoo Promise was announced in 2005, progress within the school district has been slow and steady. There are still many challenges for KPS to overcome. Improvements are evident in standardized testing and AP test scores, and even with the guarantee of college funding, the dropout rate has remained steady, with one-third of students leaving school.
The Kalamazoo Promise is a truly unique strategy for revitalizing a community by investing in its’ most valuable assets: the citizens. By taking much of the financial burden, Promise donors enable scholarship recipients to focus on their goals and their future. The nation will be watching to see how that future looks for these very special Kalamazoo Promise scholars.
Happy New Year! I think that all of you admissions folks must have been good in 2012, because Santa has brought a hilarious gift to you: “Admission,” a movie following an admissions officer (Tina Fey) as she balances her career, love, and other comedic foibles. Check out the trailer below.
These days, you don’t see much variety in the professions of movie characters. It will be refreshing to see the Admissions office in theaters… We can’t wait until March 8th!