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Rethinking the Cost of a Texas College Education

What does the free market say when a business plan just isn't cutting it? Try a different plan, that's what.  Texas Gov. Rick Perry's push for a $10,000 undergraduate degree at state colleges and universities comes from government, sure, but its nerves and neurons are classic free enterprise.   Says the governor:  Let's be willing to break a few molds; try something fresh; see what happens.

The result: new approaches at 10 Texas colleges to the enormous challenge of giving students first-rate educations at a reasonable cost.  That's more than American college students in general are presently getting as student debt rockets skyward-$904 billion nationally last spring-in tandem with tuition and housing costs.

Half a century ago, a four-year University of Texas degree-food and housing included-could be had for $5000 (about $37,000 in 2012 terms).  Try wrapping up a single academic year nowadays for less than 30,000 current bucks.  By the way, median American income, last time the government counted, was $50,054.  Feel like writing a check to UT-or another state school-for three-fifths of your annual income?  The problem suddenly comes into focus.

Perry's challenge to the state's public universities and colleges was: See whether you can't  devise a four-year degree program costing $10,000.  Responses to the challenge range from awarding course credits as soon as students demonstrate competency in a subject (Texas A&M-Commerce) to a combination of on-line courses, bigger class sizes, and larger scholarships (Angelo State University).

Who says, eureka, we've found the key to academic cost-cutting?  Nobody.  What we can say is that we're working on it: innovating, trying, testing.  Yes, and in a government setting!  The governor has other options at his disposal, but for now he's started the rethinking process.  And bringing in market principles is exactly the right place to start.