Recently I came across a press who commission all of their novels only through degree programs. That is all of their commissions had to be from students from writing courses (MFA's etc etc). They would send the top manuscripts to book groups who would then rate each one and the response of the groups determined which books would be published.
In theory the reading group idea is somewhat sound. Reading groups are often indicative of heavy book buyers and if a book becomes a “reading group book” that can lead to heavy sales. But I have to question the wisdom of only taking work from writing students.
Most authors I admire do not have a “degree” in writing, or gained one only after publication as they sought to better understand the mechanics of their craft. Two clear exceptions are a) Our own Dave White and b) Scarlett Thomas*. Both of these are naturally talented writers, and I love their work. But most of the writers I love didn't go to college to learn writing. If they did go, they completed something only tangentially connected to the craft. Even studying English does not mean you are qualified to write, but more to understand what writers do.
Having read a number of writing students' works over the years through collections and occasional invites, I have come to the conclusion that studying the formal mechanics of writing too soon can occasionally stifle an original voice. While craft is important, it cannot come at the expense of the unique nature of an author's voice. Yes, it helps if you know how to craft and create a novel, but when that gets in the way of your intentions and holds back the very thing you are looking to show off to the world (your voice), something is wrong.
Now I'm not prescribing an end to writing courses or saying that they automatically neuter the unique voice. That would be an insane statement. They can hep some people, and they have helped some people. But I think that for some writers, it is better to go and experience the world without being a “writer”. I think that while an MFA or equivalent may help some, it may also hinder others.
The wonderful and terrible thing about being an author is that you do not need – and should not need – a degree to do what we do. Yes, you need to put the work in and learn, but often the best way to do that is as you're going** and not in a classroom.
Authors should not be mass produced. They cannot be. And while some may indeed benefit from learning in a classroom environment, to believe that only the best work can come from there is folly.
*I am not connected to internet as I write but I am fairly that as well as teaching a writing course she also holds a degree
**this tangentially links to my argument about why authors benefit from years of struggle and why instant gratification may in fact make for poorer writers.