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The (Approx.) $10,000 Degree Plan

Three state institutions in Texas have teamed up to offer students a chance to obtain a bachelor degree in a new program utilizing a different curriculum model, shorter term lengths and a completely different tuition and fees structure.

Part 2 of a 3-part series on college tuition in Texas

TIFFANY FITZPATRICK
THE SIGNAL

Three state institutions in Texas have teamed up to offer students a chance to obtain a bachelor degree in a new program utilizing a different curriculum model, shorter term lengths and a completely different tuition and fees structure.

A partnership between the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), Texas A&M University-Commerce (TAMUC) and South Texas College (STC) has led to the development of the Texas Affordable Baccalaureate Program (TAB).

The TAB program currently offers one degree — a bachelor of applied science in organizational leadership. The program runs year round and is divided into 7-week terms, which allows students the ability to complete the degree in three years.

Students are not, however, required to complete the degree in three years – in fact, they are not required to complete a course within one term.

“The competency-based model can be much more flexible,” said Van Davis, director of innovations in higher education for THECB. “It allows students to accelerate or slow down without worrying about falling behind.”

The degree is a result of Governor Rick Perry’s 2011 challenge for colleges and universities to “leverage Web-based instruction, innovative teaching techniques and aggressive efficiency measures” in order to develop bachelor degrees costing $10,000 or less, including books.

In 2013, Perry announced that 13 universities had developed or announced degree plans within this price range. Politifact, a website by the Tampa Bay Times that rates the truth of political statements, reported in May 2013 that seven of the 13 did not actually meet the requirements because the universities relied heavily on community college hours and high school dual credit but did not include those costs in the price tag.

The University of Houston-Clear Lake is included on the list as one of the remaining six institutions that keep the total degree price, including expected transfer credits, around $10,000 or less for a limited number of majors. Two other universities within the University of Houston System, University of Houston-Downtown and University of Houston-Victoria, are also included on the list.

At UHCL, a student can obtain a bachelor of applied science degree in early childhood education, health care services or information technology and spend less than $10,500 for total tuition and fees.

Two of the six universities – UHCL and UHD – require 75 credit hours transferred in from community college, but the total cost claimed includes anticipated tuition and fees from community colleges as well as the university.

UHV allows students to obtain all credit requirements from the universitiy but relies on the student completing his or her degree within three years.

All three expect the student to be receiving Pell grants.

William Staples, president of UHCL, said that the state does not provide any additional funding to UHCL for offering these programs and it does not offer any additional financial incentives to students for enrolling in them.

The universities that have developed programs costing around $10,000 total, either alone or in partnership with local community colleges, have used a variety of methods to achieve the cost reduction.

Qualification for the $5,000-per-year scholarship that brings the student cost down for Angelo State University’s bachelor of interdisciplinary studies degree is based on admission test scores for first-year students and GPA for transfer students.

Students at the University of Texas-Permian Basin working toward degrees in certain science, math and technology programs can spend $10,000 in tuition and fees for a four-year curriculum through the Texas Science Scholar Program.

“UT-Permian Basin implemented the Texas Science Scholar foundation to specifically increase enrollment in low-producing science programs needed to meet some of the region’s economic needs,” said Jenny Lacoste-Caputo, spokesperson for the UT System. “Officials indicate that they have succeeded in increasing enrollment at UTPB but have not yet measured the numbers increase. They do, however, expect the upward trend to continue.”

TAMUC’s organizational leadership degree has the most flexible price range so far. Davis said students have much more control over how much tuition they pay for their degrees with a competency-based program but acknowledged that the program isn’t necessarily suitable for every institution or every student.

University of Texas, Texas A&M University and University of Houston – the state’s three Carnegie-designated Tier One research universities – have not announced degrees within the governor’s requested price range yet, although schools within each of the university systems have established lower-priced degree plans.

“This is a game-changing innovation for higher education that has the potential to reshape the way that we deliver higher education in Texas,” said Dan Jones, president of TAMUC, in a press release about the TAB program.

Skepticism about providing quality degrees that fit into a low-price package was loud at University of Texas, where the administration, faculty and students spoke out against lowering research standards for affordability.

“The Commissioner of Higher Education is really adamant about this – and we are as well – we don’t want to sacrifice quality,” Davis said. “The rigor is actually pretty significant. It’s a higher standard than almost any program in the state.”

UHCL is already ranked one of the lowest-priced universities in Texas and Staples doesn’t think that offering degrees at a lower cost for students means lowering the quality of their education.

“UHCL maintains the same standards across the board when it comes to the degrees it offers,” Staples said.

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