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A five-cent cigar and a $10,000 degree

Oct. 9, 2012 at 10 p.m.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry wants the state's universities to offer bachelor's degrees, or at least some of them, for a flat $10,000 and he wants the legislature to put that in a form that will carry some teeth in the world of higher education.

We couldn't agree more that the cost of a college education is too high and it has gotten higher over the past decade. We have now managed to price some people who want a college education right out of the ability to get it.

That is a shame, particularly in an age where jobs are scarce and education of some sort beyond high school is almost a necessity to compete in the job market. Yes, there are still some people who can be successful without college, but they are the exception to the rule and they are becoming more and more rare.

It isn't a path we would advise anyone to take.

So in one sense, we completely agree with Perry's plan. Unfortunately, we have the suspicion that he wants to use smoke and mirrors to do it. He doesn't want to help universities meet the goal by making up the difference in the lost tuition, he wants them to simply cut expenses to be able to do this.

No doubt most universities, especially the big ones, could do some cost cutting but it is a ludicrous stretch to believe that a degree that now costs a student say, $40,000, could be reduced by 75 percent to get to that $10,000 level.

Surely Perry is not advocating that universities charge less than their actual cost, which is a recipe not just for disaster, but outright failure. No, Perry just picked a number, $10,000, decided it sounded good.

True, it does sound good and what seems too good to be true almost always is. We shouldn't let Perry try to pull a fast one on us.

Giving Perry the benefit of the doubt, it could be that the governor is simply firing a warning shot to the state's flagship universities that they have gotten out of control and need to reel in those costs. Perhaps the message is that if they don't do something, and do it quickly, the legislature will take matters into its own hands.

If that is the tactic, we can agree and hope that Perry is successful in reining in costs. A few smaller universities do offer specialized degrees for that $10,000, but they are designed for older learners who have life experience and can avoid some classes. To date, at least as far as we know, there are no four-year institutions that give full, four-year degrees for that amount.

The legislature probably won't get too wrapped up in requiring this but we've been wrong before. Who would have ever thought the legislature would do what it has done to cripple public education?

Public education in Texas already ranks near the bottom among the 50 states, let's not take steps to put our higher education in the same sort of jeopardy.



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