Officials from several Texas universities and community colleges announced Tuesday a plan to make college tuition more affordable for students, laying out several ways in which they can earn four-year degrees for less than $10,000.
Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board Chairman Fred Heldenfels touted the new degrees in a SXSW panel on higher education, the Texas Tribune reported. Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) called, in his 2011 State of the State address, for lower-cost alternatives to traditional bachelor's degree programs, citing climbing levels of student debt and soaring tuition costs in the state.
The first degree, a B.S. in information technology with an emphasis on cyber-security, will be offered at Texas A&M University-San Antonio and cost approximately $9,700. Starting this fall, students may begin college coursework during their junior year of high school. After graduation, they must complete one year of community college and then transfer to Texas A&M, San Antonio to finish.
There are also plans for a $9,800 bachelor's degree in business administration from Tarleton State University, in conjunction with Texas A&M, and a bachelor's degree in organizational leadership from Texas A&M University-Commerce, in partnership with South Texas College.
In addition to Heldenfels, the panel featured Texas A&M-San Antonio President Maria Hernandez Ferrier, Texas A&M-Commerce President Dan Jones, Alamo Colleges Chancellor Bruce Leslie, South Texas College's Chief Academic Officer Juan Mejia, and Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes. The discussion was moderated by Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp.
In his State of the State, Perry challenged colleges to create degrees that would cost students less than $10,000, textbooks included. Lawmakers and university officials reacted with skepticism.
"I don't know whether the $10,000 figure is practical reality or not," Paredes told the Statesman at the time. "I interpret the governor's remarks as a call to be creative and find solutions to the spiraling costs of higher education."
According to The Project on Student Debt, the average student debt load in Texas is $20,919, while the cost of attendance in 2009-10 for public universities was as high as $22,874.
The Texas legislature has targeted the state's public higher education system with budget cuts in recent years. It also made cuts in 2011 to the TEXAS Grants financial aid program, which benefits low-income students.
Hernandez Ferrier promised more low-cost degree programs were on their way.
"This is a start," she said, according to the Texas Tribune. "We are looking at other programs that absolutely meet the needs of the region, state and the country and that will really yield a job at the end of that degree."