The $10,000 Bachelor's Degree

May 14, 2014

There is no denying it. College costs are skyrocketing. The average financial debt of a student graduating from college is currently $29,400, leaving many to wonder if a postsecondary degree is really worth it. The prohibitive cost of higher education is also having an effect on working adults who want to earn a degree or improve their skills without sacrificing work, family time, and a lot of money.

Starting this fall, Southern New Hampshire University will offer a bachelor’s degree for $10,000.

What makes this online program unique is that it is "competency-based" as opposed to the credit-based system that the majority of colleges offer. So, instead of earning credit hours towards degree completion, students will be tested on how well they know the subject matter. Once a student passes the assessment, he or she can move on to the next competency.

The program is also flexible, making it very attractive to working adults. According to a recent Yahoo Finance story, “Since CFA students all carry full- or part-time job responsibilities, most tend to base their study schedule around work. Because of the way competency-based courses are structured, there’s no penalty if they’re having a busy week at work or need a few days off to care for a sick child — they’re free to drop and pick up class work on their own timetable.”

This program is potentially valuable to the business community because of its focus on ‘skilling up’ the existing workforce. In its current form, the program is not designed for new high school grads that are looking to earn a bachelor’s degree at a low cost. Rather, it’s designed for employers to partner with the University to help provide their workers with the skills necessary to advance their careers.

The U.S. Chamber Foundation’s Jason Tyszko was recently asked about his thoughts on competency-based programs for the story.

“The beauty of what competency-based learning is trying to do is create more clarity on what someone actually knows when they come out of a program,” Tyszko said.


So, what does the future look like for these programs?

“Right now we’re in kind of an experimental phase with competency-based learning,” Tyszko said. “What remains to be seen is whether we will go from this experimental phase to fully embracing it.”

While competency-based learning is currently being rolled out to meet the needs of nontraditional students, it has the potential to be adopted more broadly for traditional students. 

By no means are $10,000 competency-based bachelor’s degrees the magic bullet for driving down the cost of higher education. However, it does look like a promising alternative for students who are looking to gain the skills and knowledge that their employer seeks.