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Low-cost degree program in Texas to see first graduates

June 23rd, 2015 Posted in Education

In 2011, due to steadily increasing tuition rates for four-year college degrees former Texas Governor Rick Perry challenged higher education administrators to create a $10,000 degree.

It seemed tricky: the year before, the average cost per credit hour for a public university in Texas was $225. A low-cost degree had to provide the same rigorous academic standards while shaving costs.

“There were a number of articles that mocked the idea of this $10k baccalaureate degree, but I thought it was a good idea and that we needed to find a way to give people a low cost education,” Raymund Paredes, Commissioner of Higher Education for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, says.

The Texas Affordable Baccalaureate Program (TABP), conceptualized by Paredes and his staff, aims to create the state’s first public competency-based baccalaureate degree, allowing its students to take courses online, in a traditional classroom setting at the program’s host colleges — or a hybrid of the two.

Since 2011, at least 13 colleges and universities in Texas have attempted to create cheaper four-year degree programs for students with a substantial number of transfer credits from other schools.

It’s a cheaper alternative to even public in-state tuition, which when coupled with room and board costs can reach about $19,000. A four-year private university could reach upwards of $42,000.

Next month, 17 students will be the first to graduate from the 102-student baccalaureate program, which was launched in January 2014 by Texas A&M University-Commerce, South Texas College, the College for All Texans Foundation and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Dr. Mary Hendrix, Vice President of Student Access and Success at Texas A&M-Commerce, says the program targets “nontraditional students”  —  those who may have started a career early and never gotten a chance to complete their degrees, for example, or people who need a degree to advance their career opportunities.

“It’s a specific target group that for the most part higher education has ignored,” says Hendrix, who also teaches psychology courses through the program. “I would have loved to have had this program. I had children and was working full-time and it was very difficult to complete a degree.”

The program, which runs in seven-week terms costing $750, allows students to take classes and complete their degree at their own pace. But so far, Hendrix says, it’s only motivated them: the average number of credit hours completed after one year is 34, which is higher than the national average.

To pass a course, students have to score an 80 or above. Hendrix says the program’s grading system is meant to be more rigorous than traditional courses at the host colleges.

“This is an innovative program and we know when you do something different, everyone always calls into question the integrity and quality,” Hendrix says.

Paredes says the program was modeled after comparable programs at universities like Arizona State University, University of Phoenix and Western Governor’s University, which all have thriving online degree offerings.

While students can take dozens of credits online, Paredes says they have the option to access counselors, mentors and tutors in face-to-face meetings on campus.

“We do not consider this program to be one that is going to be adopted in every university in Texas or to work in every field, and we don’t expect it to be suitable or attractive to every student. But it’s part of a commitment in Texas to postsecondary education for young people who want it,” Paredes says.

By April 11, 2015 10:48 am
USA Today

Morgan Baskin is a student at George Washington University and a spring 2015 USA TODAY Collegiate Correspondent.

 

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