Degenerate band edges (DBEs) of a photonic bandgap have the form (ω-ω(D)) ∝k(2m) for integers m>1, with ω(D) the frequency at the band edge. We show theoretically that DBEs lead to efficient coupling into slow-light modes without a transition region, and that the field strength in the slow mode can far exceed that in the incoming medium. A method is proposed to create a DBE of arbitrary order m by coupling m optical modes with multiple superimposed gratings. The enhanced coupling near a DBE occurs because of the presence of one or more evanescent modes, which are absent at conventional quadratic band edges. We furthermore show that the coupling can be increased or suppressed by varying the number of excited evanescent waves.