Recently, Alex Stenner, a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay, saved hundreds of dollars on tuition and hours spent in class. He signed up for a free online introduction to psychology course offered by Education Portal, of Mountain View, Calif.; crammed his studying into two weeks over the Christmas holidays; and then took the College Board's College Level Examination Program (CLEP).
After he passed that exam, his university awarded him academic credit for the psychology course. That meant he'd obtained the course credits for only $90 the cost of taking the CLEP versus "having to pay $750 [to] $900 to take the course from the university," says Mr. Stenner.
He now hopes "to be able to take up to four more courses this way."
As college costs mount, Americans are looking for creative ways to cut tuition bills. Two recent initiatives are getting lots of attention. One is the advent of massive open online courses (MOOCs), which are free courses open to anyone. The second is the debut in Texas of the $10,000 tuition plan.
"If [widely] adopted, those two ideas would certainly lower students' cost of college," says Richard Vedder, director of The Center for College Affordability and Productivity in Washington. "They're clearly viable plans, since they exist in some forms already."
The $10,000 tuition plan addresses college costs directly. Proposed in 2011 by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the plan calls for creating a degree program capped at $10,000 for tuition and textbooks at Texas' public colleges and universities. Colleges could accomplish this through a variety of methods, such as using online courses, followed by competency-based exams; partnering with community colleges that offer a year of courses before the student transfers to a four-year institution; and having students enroll in some college classes while still in high school.
The idea is sparking "a revolution," says Thomas Lindsay, head of the Center for Higher Education at the Texas Public Policy Foundation in Austin.
Already, 13 Texas public universities have adopted some variation on the $10,000 degree. In November, Florida's Gov. Rick Scott challenged his state's community colleges to offer $10,000 bachelor's degrees. California Assemblyman Dan Logue has introduced a bill that would limit tuition to no more than $10,000 for undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and math degrees at California's state universities.
Not everyone is a fan. Critics point out that …