Part Two: San Antonio’s $10,000 Degree

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The University of Texas-Permian Basin (Photo courtesy of

Miriam-SitzThis is the second half of a two-part article about challenges facing higher education, and an innovative, experimental response to the rising cost of college. Read part one here.

San Antonio’s $10,000 Degree

The Intercultural Development Research Association’s (IDRA) “San Antonio Education Snapshot” found that nearly half (47%) of graduating high school students in San Antonio do not go on to college or another institute of higher education. “Fewer than one in three (27%) San Antonio students enrolls in a Texas two-year college after graduation,” and only 15% go on to a four-year college or university in Texas after graduating.

As discussed in the first half of this series, considering that for low- and middle-income families in San Antonio the cost of college comprises an inordinate proportion of total income, the city seems a good fit for a $10,000 degree program.

AlamoCollegesThe Alamo Colleges, of recent Atlantic Cities fame for the Alamo Academies program which focuses on job placement for high school graduates, and Texas A&M-San Antonio, an upper division university, began talks in December of 2011 to bring a
collaborative $10,000, “affordable degree”
to fruition.

official TAMSAF logo

The Alamo College / A&M-San Antonio affordable degree framework begins a full two years before students enroll in college. Leo Zuniga, Vice Chancellor for Communications at Alamo Colleges, explained that students at “early college high schools” in three area school districts (Judson, Comal, and San Antonio ISDs) will begin working toward their degrees as juniors and seniors. Dr. Carolyn Wilson Green, director of the Center for Information Technology and Cyber Security at Texas A&M University-San Antonio, said that high school students can earn as many as 60 dual-credit hours before graduating.

“For the $10,000 amount to work, [students] need to be planning in advance,” Green emphasized, “which means working together with the community college and high school level counselors to make students aware of the opportunity early.”

After completing as many dual-credit hours as possible during high school, most students will take 24* hours at Alamo Colleges before transferring to A&M-San Antonio for a final 36 hours to finish their degree: a Bachelors of Applied Arts and Sciences (BAAS).

From Stock.Xchng

(Photo from Stock.Xchng)

Students at the early college high schools do not pay to take dual-credit courses; rather, costs are kept down by using instructional staff at the early college high schools. In response to questions about the rigor of the classes, Zuniga clarified: “High school teachers go through certification process with us. They must have a master’s degree, and must work with [Alamo Colleges*] faculty to develop class syllabus.”

He went on to point out that 29% of all UTSA and 85% of A&M-San Antonio baccalaureate graduates are transfer students from Alamo Colleges. “That means once they transfer, they’re doing very well.”

From Stock.Xchng

(Photo from Stock.Xchng)

Green explained that the affordable degree program does not include a discounted tuition, helping to ensure long-term sustainability. “The tuition and fee rate that we are charging for the junior and senior year is the same that we charge to all students who come to us.”

Though the $10,000 sticker price does not include textbooks, she noted that the University provides an electronic book platform, which offers materials at an average and significantly discounted price of $60 each.

“We have a major cyber security workforce need in San Antonio,” explained Green, pointing to Internet Security, one of the three BAAS-Information Technology subtracks. Zuniga confirmed the affordable degree’s relevance: “We are trying to be very, very sensitive to the local industry needs and the programs we provide to fill those needs.”

In addition to Information Technology, BAAS programs include Criminology, Early Childhood Education, Psychology, Social Sciences, Sociology, and Interdisciplinary Studies (which includes four options for specialization: education, health and wellness, business management, or psychology/general education).

Outreach to early college high schools will officially launch within* the next few weeks, once an agreement between Alamo Colleges and A&M-San Antonio is formalized.

Texas A&M University-San Antonio (Photo from

Texas A&M University-San Antonio
(Photo from

While no silver bullet solution exists to address all of the problems with higher education in this state and throughout the nation, innovations such as the affordable degree and, perhaps more importantly, an openness to thinking outside the box can only help in the effort to get the ball rolling in a positive direction.


Miriam Sitz works for Accion Texas Inc., the nation’s largest non-profit microlender. A graduate of Trinity University, she blogs on and sells handmade goods on Follow her on Twitter at @miriamsitz. [Click here for more stories from Miriam Sitz on the Rivard Report.]


*This post has been updated on 3-31-13 with input from Jillian M. Reddish, Communications Specialist at Texas A&M University-San Antonio.


Related Stories on the Rivard Report:

Part One: Disruption in Higher Ed and the $10,000 Degree

Scholarships and Jobs: Toyota and Alamo Colleges Strike Deal

UPDATED: Atlantic Cities’ Focus on San Antonio

The Noose Around our Necks: A Young Couple’s College Debt

The $10,000 Degree: Backlash to a Generation Crushed by College Debt

Reimagining the MBA: St. Mary’s University, 3 Day Startup, and Social Entrepreneurship

San Antonio: Growth in High-Tech is on the Horizon


5 thoughts on “Part Two: San Antonio’s $10,000 Degree

  1. Do you think these type of somewhat low, fixed cost degrees could be applied to online programs as well? I think this would help to eliminate another normal cost of higher education, room and board. If students can get there degrees at home, then they can save on dorming while taking advantage of the fixed price degree program. Some like this would be great for a program like’s where theyve got an accredited online program, just without the low, fixed cost price.

  2. The background for higher tuition costs is the conservatives’ restructuring of the state since the 1980’s; viz. cutting back tax-supported services and privatizing public services, including higher education. Almost all states have adopted this strategy, which has pushed up tuition and forced public colleges to seek corporate financing and forced students to seek loans. The liberal alternative has simply been to sweeten the loan terms and increase scholarship opportunities for students. It has led to a massive student loan debt of about $1 trillion. The current vogue for on-line courses (a key strategy for reaching $10,000 degrees) is driven by the conservatives’ preference to limit taxes on the 1% and to individualize responsibility for educating the next generation. These new course technologies might help, in fact, especially for narrowly defined technical subjects, but the research evidence is thin so far about whether students learn enough this way; the partisan and class agenda is driving the process. We need those who believe that education is a pubic good to step up and advocate citizen responsibility for education through the tax system — which the US did for a 100 years before Reagan. The conservative alternative has been a disaster.

    • Dear Dr. Amberg:

      The Rivard Report would welcome a well-articulated argument from you on this subject for stand-alone publication. We have published recent articles extolling the debt-fre degree, and a first-person lament form a high educated couple burdened with a six-figure higher eduction debt obligation. I am traveling, but am asking Iris Dimmick, our managing editor, to send you our submission guidelines in the event you agree to write such an essay. Thanks you for reading the Rivard Report and for taking the time to comment. –RR

    • I second Bob and David’s comments to Dr. Amberg — I would love to hear more from you on this. The argument that education is a public good seems to me to be falling out of favor with many.

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