Want a Bachelor’s Degree But Can’t Afford One? Earn a “10K-B.A.”

Posted: Feb 04, 2013 10:12 AM

It’s no secret that higher education costs are skyrocketing (the average price tag for one year at a private university in 2011 was about $33,000), while at the same time graduates are finding it increasingly harder to find decent paying jobs -- or a job, for that matter. Sure, the unemployment rate among college graduates is substantially lower than, say, the national average, but is it really worth spending four years in college accumulating hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loan debt only to face diminishing job prospects upon graduation? Perhaps it is. But the good news is that there seems to be a better option. As Arthur C. Brooks argued in his Wall Street Journal editorial last week, earning a so-called “10K-B.A” is a sound financial investment (among other reasons) because it's the most affordable way to pay for college:

One idea gaining currency is the $10,000 college degree — the so-called 10K-B.A. — which apparently was inspired by a challenge to educators from Bill Gates, and has recently led to efforts to make it a reality by governors in Texas, Florida and Wisconsin, as well as by a state assemblyman in California.

Most 10K-B.A. proposals rethink the costliest part of higher education — the traditional classroom teaching. Predictably, this means a reliance on online and distance-learning alternatives. And just as predictably, this has stimulated antibodies to unconventional modes of learning. Some critics see it as an invitation to charlatans and diploma mills. Even supporters often suggest that this is just an idea to give poor people marginally better life opportunities.

As Darryl Tippens, the provost of Pepperdine University, recently put it, “No PowerPoint presentation or elegant online lecture can make up for the surprise, the frisson, the spontaneous give-and-take of a spirited, open-ended dialogue with another person.” And what happens when you excise those frissons? In the words of the president of one university faculty association, “You’re going to be awarding degrees that are worthless to people.”

I disagree. I possess a 10K-B.A., which I got way back in 1994. And it was the most important intellectual and career move I ever made.

My own educational experience was rather different. I chose to attend a private, four year institution that was in some ways a complete waste of money. But that was ultimately my decision -- and I don’t regret it, even though now when I hear the words “Sallie Mae” (in any context) a sudden wave of nausea washes over me. But for those hoping to advance their careers by going back to school -- and not spending the rest of their lives buried in student loan debt -- earning a so-called “10K-B.A.” seems like a viable option. After all, Mr. Brooks earned his degree sometime in his late twenties. He then attended graduate school, secured tenure at a prestigious university, and now currently serves as the president of the American Enterprise Institute. Not bad for a guy who’s not -- in his words -- a “Harvard Man.”

College isn’t for everyone -- and indeed, for many Americans, it’s a complete waste of time. But for those who can and want the satisfaction of earning a bachelor’s degree, for whatever reason, this is certainly one way to do it. It’s practical, flexible and -- above all -- affordable.

What’s not to like?

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