Wal-Mart of Education?

, Deborah Lambert, Leave a comment

Amid the sound and fury over escalating college tuition costs and the student loan bubble, a practical idea may actually have taken hold.

Florida Governor Rick Scott has announced an across the board plan for all state colleges and universities in the Florida system to create four-year programs that cost no more than $10,000, according to Valerie Taylor in The College Fix. com.

Scott added that all 23 institutions in the Florida College System that offer baccalaureate degrees have announced their support for his recent education affordability challenge, according to The Bradenton Herald.

While Democrats have labeled the program the Wal-mart of Education, Texas has already followed suit and Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker has also initiated his own plan. The goal is for students not to have to go into debt to get a college degree.

The movement is fueled by several factors, including “ballooning student loan debt, and a return on the bachelor’s degree that is flat or falling,” notes Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute and a former professor at Syracuse University, in a Jan. 31 New York Times op-ed.Brooks cites data showing that the national annual average tuition for a four-year private university is nearly $33,000, and notes while the median inflation-adjusted household income fell by 7 percent between 2006 and 2011, the average tuition at public four-year colleges increased over that period by more than 18 percent.

In lobbying for the movement, Brooks said he is a product of a $10,000 undergraduate education. Noting that he wasn’t a Harvard man, Brooks averred that his $10K degree changed the course of his life, adding that “more people should have this opportunity.”

“It is true that I am no Harvard man, but I can say with full confidence that my 10K B.A. is what made higher education possible for me, and it changed the course of my life,” Brooks states. “More people should have this opportunity.”

Gov. Scott’s proposal calls for tuition cuts, but does not suggest increasing state funding to universities. Instead, present funding would be allocated to degree programs producing graduates to fill high-demand positions on the job market today.

He has been blunt in publically expressing his opinion that some degrees are worth more than others. Essentially, science, math, business, and teaching degrees would receive more attention in Florida than the humanities.

In Wisconsin, Walker said in a November speech that he preferred to think of it as making “investments that are driven off of performance.”

“We’re going to tie our funding in our technical colleges and our University of Wisconsin system into performance and say, ‘If you want money, we need you to perform,’ and particularly in higher education, we need you to perform not just in how many people you have in the classroom,” Walker said. “In higher education, that means not only degrees, but are young people getting degrees in jobs that are open and needed today, not just the jobs that the universities want to give us, or degrees that people want to give us.”

But critics contend such a policy on funding overlooks the value of a liberal arts education and the benefits of training in the humanities. They point to many studies have proven that liberal arts programs produce well-rounded students who often have better communication skills, which aid them in the job market, regardless of whether they were trained for a specific trade.

Deborah Lambert writes the Squeaky Chalk column for Accuracy in Academia.
If you would like to comment on this article, e-mail mal.kline@academia.org.