Education

Forget the $10,000 Bachelor's—Get an Associate's Degree

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A graduating class of Storm Troopers
Credit: JD Hancock / Foter.com / CC BY

When President Obama recently pushed for legislation that he hopes will curb the relentless escalation of college costs by "rewarding colleges that keep tuition down and punishing those that do not," he was met with an apt criticism:

But such an approach "does smack of price controls," a technique the public might view as intrusive, said Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education in Washington.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) had another idea, and has been "call[ing] on institutions in his state to develop options for low-cost undergraduate degrees" since late 2011. The now-famous "$10,000 Bachelor's Degree" challenge may have started in Texas, but it has already spread to Florida and at least one online university: Excelsior College.

Joseph Rallo, president of Angelo State University in Texas, said: "The profile that we aim the degree for is the adult student who is interested in a broad degree…" Excelsior's Bachelor program is similarly wide open and relies heavily on independent study and a student's prior credits from other schools.

Cheap access to career-changing degrees seems an admirable goal—especially when taxpayers aren't asked to subsidize the endeavor.

But a cheap, generic Bachelor's may be a red herring. Liberal Arts degree holders suffer higher rates of unemployment than the national average (although Fox Business still seems pretty high on them), and the U.S. economy is lacking in recipients of degrees that are already cheaper than $10,000.

CNN reports:

Only 10% of American workers have the sub-baccalaureate degrees needed for middle-skills jobs, compared with 24% of Canadians and 19% of Japanese, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reports.

It's not as if an Associate's degree damns students to a lifetime of low wages. In fact, surveys show that community college students who earn an Associate of Science degree tend to earn starting salaries of about $11,000 more per year than graduates of four-year programs. The gap closes if a student attends a private four-year university, but does the price-tag (in both time and money) justify the "reward"—and are companies likely to hold a $10,000 Bachelor's degree in high enough esteem to pay commensurate wages?

The April 2013 issue of Reason Magazine will feature a host of views on how to fix our falling college education system. Pick up a copy.

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  1. But I can quote Plato and Aristotle as I make this coffee beverage for you…

  2. Most of the community college students I’ve known were hardworking and dedicated to their studies because they’ve worked shitty jobs and they are betting on a better education to improve their situations.

    IOW it’s a lot harder to get laid at a community college.

    1. My take on touring a community college was that the women there were on average a lot better looking than the women attending a four year college.

      Dunno about the difficulty of getting laid part.

      1. most of them don’t have living quarters, so you have to lurk in the shadows if you want some action on-campus

  3. You got to love when holders of Liberal Arts degrees get all pissy about how the job market has forsaken them, and then cry about how their degree was so expensive and how government should of paid for it.

    1. Then they’re doing it wrong. It’s all about networking so you can land that cushy job at an investment bank or become a career diplomat.

      1. It’s all about networking so you can land that cushy job at an investment bank or become a career diplomat.

        And there shouldn’t be anything wrong with that.

  4. How can you continue to pay for a student/administrator ratio of 3 to 1 if you’re going to hand out sheepskin on the cheap?

  5. In fact, surveys show that community college students who earn an Associate of Science degree tend to earn starting salaries of about $11,000 more per year than graduates of four-year programs.

    That’s because the “Science” part trumps the “four year” part. I suspect comparing Associate of Science degrees to Bachelor of Science degrees would show a gap in favor of the four year degree, though perhaps not enough to justify the extra expense for many people.

    1. I bet you’re right. Fwiw I have only a two year degree and make ~$65k/yr. I’m ok with that. I like my job, the company I work for, and the crew I work with.

  6. Thees es boolshit mayn! They told me that Greviance Studies was my ticket to wealth, fame and pussy!

  7. “John J. Walters”

    Every time I read that name, I think of this.

  8. It’s not as if an Associate’s degree damns students to a lifetime of low wages. In fact, surveys show that community college students who earn an Associate of Science degree tend to earn starting salaries of about $11,000 more per year than graduates of four-year programs

    If NPR is my guide, it could be because too many college grads are graduating with degrees in French Literature and Art History with six figures of loan debt, then wondering what the hell happened when they hit the job market?

    I always link associates degrees with dirty merchant trades.

    1. If NPR is my guide, it could be because too many college grads are graduating with degrees in French Literature and Art History with six figures of loan debt, then wondering what the hell happened when they hit the job market?

      I always link associates degrees with dirty merchant trades.

      Well, that’s the point. Too many people confuse an “education” for “vocational training”. Yeah, I got my B.A. in Humanities, but I always realized that pursuing that liberal arts education was an upper middle class privilege given as gift to me by my parents. Before I graduated, I knew I had to go back to school for a graduate degree that was marketable. I went on to earn two more degrees and I have never been out of work, nor have I ever worked outside my field (except as a hobby).

      I don’t regret my bachelor’s in Humanities at all. However, that was for me. My other degrees are for other people. If you can’t afford to study something for 4 years that won’t prepare you for a career, then don’t. That’s what the “liberal” in Liberal Arts actually means, liber/free, as in free from having to earn a living, as opposed to the Mechanical Arts or Fine Arts.

      1. In some Warren Miller film (I’ll let you google if you’re not familiar) someone said, “If you can afford to go to college, you probably shouldn’t”.

        I always liked that quote…

      2. I think you are hitting one of the major issues…if higher ed is basically vocational ed (i.e., tied to marketable skill) then it should be priced by the market. Higher ed doesn;t have to be that though. It can be a structured environment for those who just like learning about things…but it shouldn’t cost hundreds of thousands to study literature, given the prevalence of cheap books. Sever the idea that all higher ed is marketable, and tiered pricing would solve lots of the issues I think.

        1. .if higher ed is basically vocational ed (i.e., tied to marketable skill) then it should be priced by the market. Higher ed doesn;t have to be that though. It can be a structured environment for those who just like learning about things…but it shouldn’t cost hundreds of thousands to study literature, given the prevalence of cheap books. Sever the idea that all higher ed is marketable, and tiered pricing would solve lots of the issues I think..

          Why just Higher Ed? Why not all education? But that comes dangerously to school choice….*sound of shotgun being pumped*

          1. Well, the post was specifically about higher ed…but I hear you. Do vocational high schools even exist anymore? I support school choice, but in elementary school, I’m not sure the tracking between vocational and traditional ed is the big issue. In that case, I think school choice is an economic freedom issue for parents, not students under the age of 18.

        2. but it shouldn’t cost hundreds of thousands to study literature, given the prevalence of cheap books.

          If you’ve been to a college bookstore, you’d know not only is this not true, colleges act in collusion with textbook publishers to soak students for every single dime.

          Some of the recent tactics are University-specific editions of books and turning over editions bi-annually.

          1. yes, university bookstores are part of the problem…I meant only that most of the actual literature to be studied can be had cheaply. Dead authors don;t publish new editions afterall.

            1. Dead authors don;t publish new editions afterall.

              This couldn’t be more false. Or is that Riverside Edition of Chaucer I have on the bookshelf handwritten by a scribe on vellum?

    2. I always link associates degrees with dirty merchant trades.

      For anyone not getting the sarcasm here, I’m currently reading Shibumi.

      So… ask me if you’re curious.

      1. I am curious…but not bi-curious.

        1. In Shibumi, the main character, Nicholai Hel, had an aristocratic gadfly mother who made sure he had the best tutors, but was very specific that he not learn anything practical. It was to be languages, philosophy, art, the humanities. Practical tutoring and useful subjects were for the merchant class, for which she had great disdain.

          At one point, it turns out that she is informed that her son has a gift for mathematics. Suspicious of it’s practical application, she suggests that his tutors stop this math nonsense. One of the tutors quickly informs her that mathematics can exist purely for itself, and therfore really has no practical application in the world. Assured, she allows the math instruction to continue.

          It’s a great book, and I highly recommend it.

          1. Smart tutor! It sounds interesting…I will look for it. Thanks.

          2. I don’t remember that part. All I remember is him teaching himself Basque in prison and playing Go a lot.

            1. Shit. I WAS going to read it until you spouted off. Thanks for ruining it for everyone else.

            2. I bet you don’t remember the Tanaka sisters, either.

  9. Hmm – guess I’m an outlier. Small, private liberal arts undergrad BA, loved it, wouldn’t have gone anywhere else. I’m a big proponent of LA undergrad – esp if you continue into Masters work in a specific area (my school graduates lots of Bio/Chem majors who go to Med or Dental school). I started cashing in about 6 months after I graduated, and it’s just been MO’ MONEY, MO’ MONEY, MO’ MONEY since then. Never did get a Masters degree.

    Of course, I’ve been working since I was 11, so work ethic – among other factors – may be involved. Oh, PS, I also took $0 in loans and was debt free when I graduated – keeping the debt low to non-existent helps, kids.

    Now all the cool kids from the “top schools” make up my organization 🙂 EVERYBODY WINS

    1. Now all the cool kids from the “top schools” make up my organization 🙂 EVERYBODY WINS

      There’s certainly little doubt that someone graduating from a blue-chip school with a law degree will have good employment prospects.

      1. That hasn’t been true for about four years. Plenty of Ivy League law types moaning about their employment prospects recently. And plenty of former associates from white shoe firms who can’t find a job now that Big Law has crashed to Earth.

        1. After I typed my comment I kind of remembered hearing about that somewhere. Maybe here on Reason, that Big University Law was on the ropes, or that an Ivy League Lore Degree wasn’t what it used to be… or something.

        2. Seeing that Hravard’s most famous “constitutional scholar” doesn’t seem to know shit about the constitution can’t be helpful.

          1. I have it from a former L-school prof that Harvard Law’s faculty actively tries to fail students, especially in the first year.

            1. Yeah, but what about Hravard?

    2. IIRC your previous statement of your age, you presumably went to college over 30 years ago. Things have changed a bit in the mean time.

      1. Get off my lawn, kid!

  10. Forget the $10,000 Bachelor’s ? Get an Associate’s Degree

    But I can’t gloat and be pretentious the same way as with a B.A.!

    What will I tell people at the cocktail parties? How can I show off my credentials and my $150,000 in student debt that turns me into an indentured sophisticate? What about the children???

    1. Just lie about your degree.

      1. I have a degree in commentology with a minor in sarcasm from Reason University.

      2. I have an associates while all of my co-workers have bachelors. I make the same as they do.

        I go out of my way to avoid talking about degrees & school. I’m afraid they might get pissed when they realize how much time & money they wasted…

        1. If your handle is a measure of your honesty, then I don’t believe a word you say. I say this because Ken Shultz has assured me that there are no reason readin females because the commenters say the word ‘cunt’ too often.

  11. Cheap access to career-changing degrees seems an admirable goal?especially when taxpayers aren’t asked to subsidize the endeavor.

    You have to understand that students are not looking for an education, which they can get much cheaper just by looking at the curriculum offered by such places as M.I.T. and hit the books. Or they can attend the online courses at The University of the People for [almost] free. But none of those options gives you what many students really want, and that is: the credentials, the prestige.

    They’re not buying an education, they’re buying what they think is an inherent meal ticket. That’s all.

    1. But none of those options gives you what many students really want, and that is: not having to work.

  12. Forget the associate’s degree. Become a plumber or electrician and remain fully employed for the rest of your life.

  13. Like many other areas of the workforce, the expectations for college graduates have to change. It’s the same in manufacturing. Labor unions are trying to hold on to the idea of years past that if you don’t graduate high school, you simply need to show up for work on time and turn a wrench and you’ll be able to live comfortably. If the only thing you bring to the table now is an ability to turn a wrench, you are going to have a hard time in the job market.

    The same thing can be said about four year degrees. There may have been a time where you could major in history or english and then go on to a comfortable middle management job at the local insurance company because people would be wowed at the parchment you got at the end. That is mostly not the case anymore. If the only thing you can add to a workplace is your love of greek philosophers, you aren’t going to get hired. You need to have some value to add!

    The sad thing is that it is not that hard! Get a job while you are in school, even part time. If you want a job in a certain industry, try to get an internship. Don’t be surprised if your first job is entry level. Work hard and if you don’t think you are compensated enough for your work, take your talents elsewhere.

    We will start seeing this in graduate programs too. Lot of people out there racking up MBAs and JDs thinking job offers will just roll in because of their special piece of papper.

  14. I’m in community college right now to get 2 college certificates. One for network administration, and one for network security. It will be close to an associate’s degree, but it doesn’t include any general ed courses except for a technical writing class. So it’s very specialized. I also have CompTIA certification

    1. In computers/IT, degrees and certificates don’t really mean jack, other than having a CS degree from a good CS school can open some doors. What really matters is experience. So get a job as soon as possible even if it’s for shit pay and start getting that experience. Startups are great for that as they often need to keep salaries low and will take risks on people without much of a track record.

      For instance, the other senior dev at my starup was hired by us with almost no experience and a pointless network degree from ITT. He turned out to be a great natural programmer and he has gained an incredible amount of experience because we are insane here and do everything and wear all hats and have an extreme programming culture. Whenever he looks for his next job, he will have zero trouble getting a good one that pays well, because he will have 3+ years of wide experience under his belt.

      1. I am thinking of an internship during the summer, since I don’t think any of my other classes are being held until the fall.

        But I was indeed told that experience and networking are a big part in the IT industry. I already have some professors willing to refer me, so who knows.

        I have been building and repairing computer since I was 8, but I never was that fluent in network terminology. So even if I don’t get a job straight away, I can still use it to set up some sort of entrepreneurship

        Anything is better than retail

      2. Though it may be transient, certified salesforce.com administrators and developers DO have access to more than Jack Shit opportunities in IT…but of course that presumes you are working for something more than a startup.

      3. Is that extreme programming environment or Extreme Programming environment?

  15. I think it’s amazing how few people go into their education with a plan for what’s going to happen once they get their degree. This goes for associate’s, bachelor’s and graduate degrees/certifications.

    If you have no clue what your plans are after school, you probably shouldn’t be enrolling in school.

  16. DeVry U. ad just ran on the TV. They claim they are helping to create xillion jobs that are badly needed. As that statement was made they showed footage from a solar panel factory making panels.

    We are fucked.

    1. I’ve already run into a few engineering PhD’s who work in solar panels, that I’ll have to deal with in my new job. They’re totally arrogant assholes who think the world owes them for saving the planet or some shit.

  17. Where does a Bachelor’s only cost $10,000? Community College?

    1. I think that people who go to community college should have to pay for a government mandated insurance program because poor people can’t be trusted with a modicum of education…

      and it’s the libertarian way…

      Who knows what shit white trash will fuck up give a bit of knowledge.

    2. At least one branch of the University of Texas has $10K degree plans (tuition, not including books) for some science majors. Math, Chemistry, CS, I think.

  18. I wish I could have just gotten an Associate’s Degree.

    Thank you protectionism and almighty big brother for deciding that a Master’s was necessary to do my job. All praise be unto thee.

  19. Thanks for the article but some corrections. For more info on people using voluntary Libertarian tools on similar and other issues worldwide, please see the non-partisan Libertarian International Organization @ http://www.Libertarian-International.org ….

    That’s a 12 K challenge–it was lowered to 10K when Libertarians in Florida pointed out that there was already a Florida State College that made it 10K and also has great AA degreees.

    Seems like you guys still need to be up on what Libertarians are doing.

    You will find a deeper discussion right up front ( STEM vs BASE) at the above Libertarian site pointing out that this is not only not new but how it actually is still more costly over what was there before, along with links to many options being legalized by Libertarians.

  20. BTW, Excelsior used to be a State college started with Libertarian pressure where you could get a an AA or Liberal Arts/Sciences or Business BA by exam in ONE day for $100. It was called Regents in those days.

    I know someone there who says they keep getting harrassed by weird State/Federal statutes that raise their prices e.g. a requirement they send records they don’t even keep to every state.

    REASON could really have stronger stories if their writers spent 30 minutes on the phone or checking Libertarian websites in their research. Again and again I see them miss Libertarian activity, quote conservative know-nothings or not go a little deeper in articles with some basic GOOGLING or research. They miss the Libertarian angle or trumpet what is being done as if it’s new.

    BTW–BA’s are supposed to be in tandem with business, military, or ministerial studies when not for pure scholarship. Many leave that off and are surprised when they have problems. Also it’s crazy to spend a lot on a degree when the IVY and top LAC degrees are basically free to the middle class and below.

  21. My bsee and five years of industry experience can’t even net me an interview. Telling these companies like Lockheed and Honeywell I have a bs is like telling them I have a GED
    Snowden being the exception.

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