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The $10,000 Question

Texas prides itself on being a place where everything is bigger. But when it comes to higher education, Governor Rick Perry does not just want the price tag of a four-year bachelor’s degree to be smaller. He wants it to be the smallest.

“Today, I’m challenging our institutions of higher education to develop bachelor’s degrees that cost no more than $10,000, including textbooks,” said Perry on Tuesday in his “State of the State” address.

“Let’s leverage Web-based instruction, innovative teaching techniques and aggressive efficiency measures to reach that goal,” he said.

Perry is not the first Republican governor to turn heads by suggesting that colleges could use technology to vastly reduce the cost of degree programs without sacrificing quality. Last summer, Tim Pawlenty, then the governor of Minnesota, suggested that students should be able to pay $199 per course for “iCollege.” (While Pawlenty was inspired by Steve Jobs, Perry’s muse was rival tech cynosure Bill Gates. At a conference in San Francisco last August, Gates said that a four-year bachelor’s program should cost $2,000 per year, not $20,000. Accounting for textbooks, Perry’s math roughly matches Gates’s.)

But while Pawlenty appeared to be speaking rhetorically and perhaps a bit in jest — he proposed the idea on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” not from the bully pulpit — Perry is deadly serious. “He wouldn’t be challenging universities to implement it if he didn’t think it could happen,” said the spokeswoman.

So, can it be done?

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