How to Get a Budget Degree from a Respected University

By Staff

Two Republican governors in recent years have championed big price cuts in higher education, pushing their states to offer a four-year bachelor’s degree for a tantalizing $10,000.

Now Maryland is forging into this price-slashing discussion with a plan that will enable students to get a bachelor’s degree from a public university for $20,000.

This week, the University of Maryland University College announced a discount for graduates of the state’s community colleges. The UMUC Completion Scholarship will cut $4,440 off the price of a bachelor’s degree for students who transfer into the public online university with an associate’s degree from one of Maryland’s 16 community colleges.

Figuring that a two-year degree costs an average of $8,000, according to a UMUC spokesman, the price of the remaining credits to finish a bachelor’s degree would be about $12,000 for eligible students. Students would be guaranteed that rate for up to four years in all of the university’s undergraduate programs.

Total price: $20,000.

That doesn’t include other scholarships or grants that a student might obtain for financial need or academic merit.

“Community college graduates are a solid investment because they have already invested in themselves,” UMUC President Javier Miyares said in a statement. “The new UMUC Completion Scholarship provides a well-deserved incentive to keep going and earn a four-year degree that will pay even greater dividends in the future — whether that is a new job, a promotion, or a whole new career.”

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) and Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) have pushed their states to develop pathways to a bachelor’s degree priced at $10,000. Critics say such a low price undervalues what colleges and universities do and threatens to undermine quality. But some analysts say that $10,000 is a reasonable target for a no-frills degree.

Now Maryland has determined that a bachelor’s degree at twice that price is a good idea.

“Together, with our highly-regarded community colleges and UMUC’s innovative leadership, we will continue to expand opportunity and ensure Maryland students are not only able to compete nationally, but globally as well,” Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) said in a statement.

How many students will take advantage of the discount is unknown. In 2012, nearly 14,000 students earned associate’s degrees at Maryland community colleges. Many community college students who transfer to four-year schools want a full campus experience rather than the online education that is UMUC’s specialty. But working adults often prefer the flexibility of online courses.

A community college advocate said the UMUC price cut might spark competition from other schools.

“I think there’s more to come, which is good news for students,” said Bernard Sadusky, executive director of the Maryland Association of Community Colleges. “There’s going to be a lot of initiatives. I think you’ll see some other colleges doing the same thing. Competition will drive innovation.”

UMUC, based in Adelphi, has 39,557 students in the United States and thousands more overseas. It is the nation’s largest public online university and a member of the University System of Maryland. Its domestic enrollment fell about 6 percent this year.

Frostburg State University, in western Maryland, offers a similar scholarship to community college graduates who had a B average or better. The scholarship, worth $2,500 a year, was announced in late 2011. With it, the price of a Frostburg State bachelor’s degree for some students could also be about $20,000 or less.

The lowest price at a four-year university in Maryland, according to College Board data, is at Coppin State in Baltimore. There, tuition and fees for Maryland residents total $6,252.

If that price were frozen for four years — which is unlikely — a full-time Coppin State student who paid the full rate could earn a bachelor’s degree for about $25,000, not counting housing, food, books and other expenses.

Baltimore has the least-expensive community college in the state, with tuition as low as $88 per credit hour. A graduate of Baltimore City Community College who paid full price for an associate’s degree and then transferred to Coppin State might be able to obtain a bachelor’s degree for about $20,000 or less.

In the District of Columbia, a student who obtains a full-price associate’s degree from the community college within the public University of the District of Columbia and then obtains a bachelor’s degree from UDC might pay slightly more than $20,000.

The College Board data indicate that Virginia does not offer a way to obtain a $20,000 bachelor’s degree for students who pay the full in-state price at public colleges.