From $10K-B.A. to Prominent Thought Leader (and Me, Too)

Feb 1, 2013

If you have been reading our posts for some time, you know that we are huge supporters of innovation in higher education. We advocate for innovation because of things like skyrocketing tuition costs, declining household incomes, and adults looking to learn 21st-century skills, among other reasons.

One such innovation is the ‘10K-B.A.’ which provides a student with a bachelor’s degree for $10,000 by eliminating much of the costs associated with in-person classroom teaching. The courses of the 10K-B.A. are predominately taken online. Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, is a strong supporter of this innovation. Why? Because this is exactly how he earned his bachelor’s back in 1994.

In an op-ed in the New York Times entitled, “My Valuable, Cheap College Degree,” Brooks illustrates his journey from high school to higher education. What I found interesting is that his journey was eerily similar to mine. Following high school, Brooks describes his “unedifying year in college” which “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.” My unedifying year was at Towson University in 1992-93. (Back then it was called Towson State University)

My time after Towson was spent in Atlanta working as a musician until I was 28. Brooks had also been bitten by the music bug and spent much of his twenties playing music in what his parents refer to as his “gap decade.” 

At 28, I was finally interested and ready to pursue higher education. I ended up enrolling at George Mason University in Northern Virginia and graduated in 2007 with a B.A. degree. However, had I not had supportive parents who provided me room and board (in their basement); attending a traditional University full time at the age of 28 probably would not have been possible.

Mr. Brooks’ approach was different. He writes, “By my late 20s I was ready to return to school. But I was living in Spain, had a thin bank account, and no desire to start my family with a mountain of student loans.” So Brooks enrolled in a virtual college in New Jersey without residency requirements —Thomas Edison State College along with other schools that offered correspondence courses. When Brooks completed his degree, he “never met a teacher, never sat in a classroom, and to this day never laid eyes on my beloved alma mater.” The cost? About 10 grand.

The reality is that the ‘one size fits all’ approach to higher education is outdated. We need to reach as many people as possible who want a post-secondary degree but may not be in a situation to attend a traditional university. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) remarked at an Institute for a Competitive Workforce event last week that, “we need an education system that responds to the changing student of the 21st century” ... “when you’re 35 years old and you’re a single parent, you can’t just drop everything and move to a college town for four years.”

The fact is that the education system needs to innovate and deliver to those who may not be able to ‘drop everything.’ We must provide everyone with an opportunity to realize their potential. Otherwise, how many success stories like Arthur Brooks will never be told?

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