By Brandon Dutcher
Special to The Sun
OKLA. CITY —
Several of Oklahoma’s political leaders and higher education officials have said they would like to see an increase in the number of college graduates. Regardless of whether this is wise policy, we’re still left with the problem of affordability.
Perhaps we can learn something from Texas. Lara Seligman reports in the National Journal (“Does Texas Have an Answer to Sky-High Tuition?”) that “Texas is experimenting with an initiative to help students and families struggling with sky-high college costs: a bachelor’s degree for $10,000, including tuition, fees and even textbooks.” We’re not talking $10,000 a year, mind you — this is $10,000 total.
“Under a plan he unveiled in 2011, Republican Gov. Rick Perry has called on institutions in his state to develop options for low-cost undergraduate degrees. The idea was greeted with skepticism at first, but, lately, it seems to be gaining traction. If it yields success, it could prompt other states to explore similar, more-innovative ways to cut the cost of education.”
So far 10 institutions in Texas have answered Gov. Perry’s call. Here’s hoping Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin will issue the same challenge.
Granted, some may be skeptical about the quality of a $10K degree. Fair enough. That’s why Oklahoma should require institutions granting $10K degrees to administer the Collegiate Learning Assessment — a standardized test praised by Microsoft chairman Bill Gates and others — during students’ freshman and senior years and publish the scores on their official transcripts.
Matter of fact, ahem, while we’re at it, Oklahoma should require the same for its degree-granting institutions right now. For as law professor (and OCPA distinguished fellow) Andrew Spiropoulos has dared to point out, “Spending and tuition have dramatically escalated while measurable student achievement has remained flat or even declined. The publication of the landmark academic study Academically Adrift empirically documenting that students only show marginal improvement in their intellectual skills after attending college has forced all of us in the business to re-examine what we do.”
Well, maybe not all of them in the business. Some in the higher education establishment are dubious of the $10K degree, and they certainly want no part of the Collegiate Learning Assessment.
This is not surprising. Writing recently in National Review, Jonah Goldberg reminded us of Egon Krenz, the last Communist leader of East Germany: “He was an unremarkable apparatchik who had the bad luck to be in charge when the whole totalitarian glockenspiel went kaput. A product of the institutions he served in, Krenz was incapable of understanding the unsustainability of the system that produced him. Like all such creatures, he believed that the solution to the problem was doubling down on the problem.”
Even as credible voices point to the unsustainability of the current higher education system (Sal Khan posits that in five years “the learning side will be free”), Oklahoma’s higher education establishment is calling for — you guessed it — more money. It’s as if many of them are not fully coming to terms with what Heritage Foundation fellow Lindsey Burke calls “the revolution at their doorsteps.”
There are exceptions. Hats off to Oklahoma State University president Burns Hargis, a former banker who recognizes the potential for increased productivity in higher education. “We need to do more, better and cheaper,” he said.
A $10K bachelor’s degree is one way to do it. Florida Gov. Rick Scott is the latest governor to challenge his state colleges to develop them. Gov. Fallin could show visionary leadership — and do a great service to Oklahoma students and their parents — by doing the same.
BRANDON DUTCHER, an Edmond resident, is vice president for policy at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a free-market think tank.