$10K degree provides high value

No online lecture can equal “the surprise, the frisson, the spontaneous give-and-take of a spirited, open-ended dialogue with another person,” says Darryl Tippens, the provost of Pepperdine University.

Arthur C. Brooks’ no-frissons, $10,000 bachelor’s degree “was the most important intellectual and career move I ever made,” he writes in the New York Times.

After high school, I spent an unedifying year in college. The year culminated in money problems, considerably less than a year of credits, and a joint decision with the school that I should pursue my happiness elsewhere. Next came what my parents affectionately called my “gap decade,” during which time I made my living as a musician.

Ready for school in his late 20s, he discovered Thomas Edison State College in Trenton, N.J. , a virtual college with no residence requirements. Edison “banks credits acquired through inexpensive correspondence courses from any accredited college or university in America.”

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. 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.

After spending $10,000 on his bachelor’s degree, Brooks invested $5,000 in a master’s at a local university while working full time. Only as a student in a residential PhD program did he endure “the standard penury,” but he completed three degrees with no debt.

He became a tenured professor in behavioral economics at Syracuse University and now is president of the American Enterprise Institute.

. . . my 10K-B.A. is what made higher education possible for me, and it changed the course of my life. More people should have this opportunity, in a society that is suffering from falling economic and social mobility.

Higher ed’s bubble is about to burst, writes Brooks. Many people must make a “cost-effective college investment” or forego higher education. “The entrepreneurs who see a way for millions to go to college affordably are the ones who understand the American dream,” Brooks writes. “That dream is the opportunity to build a life through earned success. That starts with education.”

Amy Alkon writes: “Had my parents not paid, I might have done what I advise kids who come from poor families to do (when I talk at a school) — go to a good community college like Santa Monica college for two years, gotten great grades . . .  and then transferred to a better, four-year school.”

Brooks, the son of professors, is an outlier, not an example of the typical nontraditional student, writes James M. Patterson on Minding the Campus.

Harvard or community college?

Where should collegebound students go in the fall: Harvard or their local community college? Consider community college over a high-priced university, advises John Hrabe, a graduate fellow at the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy, on the Huffington Post.

Community colleges are the best value in higher education, he argues. Two-year colleges offer instruction that’s just as good as what four-year insitutions provide, but without the massive debt.

College debt is supposed to be “good debt,” but a degree no longer guarantees a middle-class job that generates enough income to pay off loans, Hrabe writes. Graduates can’t discharge their loans through bankruptcy

By 2012, the nation will hold more than $1 trillion of this inescapable debt, with the average graduate’s burden at $24,000.

In a depressed economy, many more college graduates are taking jobs that don’t require a degree, writes Hrabe.

Some may try to start their own businesses, but debt saps the entrepreneurial spirit. Debt-ridden graduates can’t take the risk or get loans to try a new idea.

Community college is a low-cost alternative, Hrabe writes.

A decade ago, for just $12 per unit, I completed my general education requirements at a Los Angeles-area community college. At Moorpark College, I learned public speaking from one of the nation’s most accomplished speech programs, which has won nine national championships in 40 years. Had I taken the same class down the street at UCLA, I would have been taught by a second-year graduate assistant with no teaching experience.

Or worse, I might have been taught by a tenured university professor. Just as price doesn’t correlate to value, academic publications are not the best bellwether of quality instruction. The most accomplished academics are often the worst teachers. Without the pressure to publish, community college professors have more time to invest in their students.

Will young people keep mortgaging their futures to go to elite colleges?  Jane Shaw envisions a future in which the smart kids apply to Ha-Ya (Harvard and Yale have merged) for the honor of admission, then go to community college or virtual college or sign up with freelance professors to get an education.

It all started, Shaw writes, on May 28, 2010, when “Your Money” columnist Ron Lieber wrote about  Cortney Munna, a graduate of New York University who owed $97,000 in student loans and works for a photographer earning $22 an hour.