Arthur C. Brooks is the president of the American Enterprise Institute, a preeminent think-tank in Washington, D.C. What you may not know about him is that he finished his three degrees via correspondence before he landed a job as a Syracuse University professor.
“I possess a 10K-B.A., which I got way back in 1994,” writes Brooks for the New York Times. “And it was the most important intellectual and career move I ever made.” The 10K-B.A. is a Bachelor’s degree that costs approximately $10,000.
“I took classes by mail from the University of Washington, the University of Wyoming, and other schools with the lowest-priced correspondence courses I could find,” Brooks writes. “My degree required the same number of credits and type of classes that any student at a traditional university would take. I took the same exams (proctored at local libraries and graded by graduate students) as in-person students. But I never met a teacher, never sat in a classroom, and to this day have never laid eyes on my beloved alma mater (emphasis added). Virtual universities could offer the same opportunity; however, many private universities charge similar prices for online courses than in-person ones.
“And the whole degree, including the third-hand books and a sticker for the car, cost me about $10,000 in today’s dollars,” writes Brooks. His educational saga doesn’t stop there: “Now living back in the United States, I followed the 10K-B.A. with a 5K-M.A. at a local university while working full time, and then endured the standard penury of being a full-time doctoral fellow in a residential Ph.D. program. The final tally for a guy in his 30s supporting a family: three degrees, zero debt.”
Currently, the average debt for a bachelor’s degree is around $26,500, according to a recent report by the Institute for College Access and Success’s Project on Student Debt. As Brian Tamanaha, author of Failing Law Schools also notes, law students, on average, graduate with $125,000 in cumulative debt.
Brooks argues that the case for the 10K-B.A. is “primarily moral, not financial.” “College tuition has increased at twice the rate of health care costs over the past 25 years,” he asserts. Both industries–health care and education–are facing financial bubbles exacerbated by government intervention in the marketplace. In the case of education, moral hazard abounds; some law schools are counseling that the Department of Education’s income-based repayment plan (IBR) can be used guarantee that student debts are forgiven after 20 years regardless of the cost of a law degree, according to Tamanaha.
“Ballooning student loan debt, an impending college bubble, and a return on the bachelor’s degree that is flat or falling: all these things scream out for entrepreneurial solutions,” argues Brooks. A recent study by Richard Vedder et al. found that nearly half of all American college graduates in 2010 were “underemployed, holding relatively low-paying and low-skilled jobs,” according to Allie Bidwell with The Chronicle of Higher Education.
“Mr. Vedder said the number of college-level jobs is growing at a slower pace than the number of college graduates, and it will continue to grow more slowly if government data prove to be true,” reports Bidwell.