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No online lecture can equal “the surprise, the frisson, the spontaneous give-and-take of a spirited, open-ended dialogue with another person,” says Darryl Tippens, the provost of Pepperdine University.

Arthur C. Brooks’ no-frissons, $10,000 bachelor’s degree “was the most important intellectual and career move I ever made,” he writes in the New York Times.

After high school, I spent an unedifying year in college. The year culminated in money problems, considerably less than a year of credits, and a joint decision with the school that I should pursue my happiness elsewhere. Next came what my parents affectionately called my “gap decade,” during which time I made my living as a musician.

Ready for school in his late 20s, he discovered Thomas Edison State College in Trenton, N.J. , a virtual college with no residence requirements. Edison “banks credits acquired through inexpensive correspondence courses from any accredited college or university in America.”

I took classes by mail from the University of Washington, the University of Wyoming, and other schools with the lowest-priced correspondence courses I could find. My degree required the same number of credits and type of classes that any student at a traditional university would take. I took the same exams (proctored at local libraries and graded by graduate students) as in-person students. But I never met a teacher, never sat in a classroom, and to this day have never laid eyes on my beloved alma mater.

After spending $10,000 on his bachelor’s degree, Brooks invested $5,000 in a master’s at a local university while working full time. Only as a student in a residential PhD program did he endure “the standard penury,” but he completed three degrees with no debt.

He became a tenured professor in behavioral economics at Syracuse University and now is president of the American Enterprise Institute.

. . . my 10K-B.A. is what made higher education possible for me, and it changed the course of my life. More people should have this opportunity, in a society that is suffering from falling economic and social mobility.

Higher ed’s bubble is about to burst, writes Brooks. Many people must make a “cost-effective college investment” or forego higher education. “The entrepreneurs who see a way for millions to go to college affordably are the ones who understand the American dream,” Brooks writes. “That dream is the opportunity to build a life through earned success. That starts with education.”

Amy Alkon writes: “Had my parents not paid, I might have done what I advise kids who come from poor families to do (when I talk at a school) — go to a good community college like Santa Monica college for two years, gotten great grades . . . and then transferred to a better, four-year school.”

Brooks, the son of professors, is an outlier, not an example of the typical nontraditional student, writes James M. Patterson on Minding the Campus.

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Joanne Jacobs, formerly of the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News, is a freelance journalist who blogs at joannejacobs.com.

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