This is the second half of a two-part article about challenges facing higher education, and an innovative, experimental response to the rising cost of college. Read part one here.
San Antonio’s $10,000 Degree
The Intercultural Development Research Association’s (IDRA) “San Antonio Education Snapshot” found that nearly half (47%) of graduating high school students in San Antonio do not go on to college or another institute of higher education. “Fewer than one in three (27%) San Antonio students enrolls in a Texas two-year college after graduation,” and only 15% go on to a four-year college or university in Texas after graduating.
As discussed in the first half of this series, considering that for low- and middle-income families in San Antonio the cost of college comprises an inordinate proportion of total income, the city seems a good fit for a $10,000 degree program.
The Alamo Colleges, of recent Atlantic Cities fame for the Alamo Academies program which focuses on job placement for high school graduates, and Texas A&M-San Antonio, an upper division university, began talks in December of 2011 to bring a
collaborative $10,000, “affordable degree”
The Alamo College / A&M-San Antonio affordable degree framework begins a full two years before students enroll in college. Leo Zuniga, Vice Chancellor for Communications at Alamo Colleges, explained that students at “early college high schools” in three area school districts (Judson, Comal, and San Antonio ISDs) will begin working toward their degrees as juniors and seniors. Dr. Carolyn Wilson Green, director of the Center for Information Technology and Cyber Security at Texas A&M University-San Antonio, said that high school students can earn as many as 60 dual-credit hours before graduating.
“For the $10,000 amount to work, [students] need to be planning in advance,” Green emphasized, “which means working together with the community college and high school level counselors to make students aware of the opportunity early.”
After completing as many dual-credit hours as possible during high school, most students will take 24* hours at Alamo Colleges before transferring to A&M-San Antonio for a final 36 hours to finish their degree: a Bachelors of Applied Arts and Sciences (BAAS).
Students at the early college high schools do not pay to take dual-credit courses; rather, costs are kept down by using instructional staff at the early college high schools. In response to questions about the rigor of the classes, Zuniga clarified: “High school teachers go through certification process with us. They must have a master’s degree, and must work with [Alamo Colleges*] faculty to develop class syllabus.”
He went on to point out that 29% of all UTSA and 85% of A&M-San Antonio baccalaureate graduates are transfer students from Alamo Colleges. “That means once they transfer, they’re doing very well.”
Green explained that the affordable degree program does not include a discounted tuition, helping to ensure long-term sustainability. “The tuition and fee rate that we are charging for the junior and senior year is the same that we charge to all students who come to us.”
Though the $10,000 sticker price does not include textbooks, she noted that the University provides an electronic book platform, which offers materials at an average and significantly discounted price of $60 each.
“We have a major cyber security workforce need in San Antonio,” explained Green, pointing to Internet Security, one of the three BAAS-Information Technology subtracks. Zuniga confirmed the affordable degree’s relevance: “We are trying to be very, very sensitive to the local industry needs and the programs we provide to fill those needs.”
In addition to Information Technology, BAAS programs include Criminology, Early Childhood Education, Psychology, Social Sciences, Sociology, and Interdisciplinary Studies (which includes four options for specialization: education, health and wellness, business management, or psychology/general education).
Outreach to early college high schools will officially launch within* the next few weeks, once an agreement between Alamo Colleges and A&M-San Antonio is formalized.
While no silver bullet solution exists to address all of the problems with higher education in this state and throughout the nation, innovations such as the affordable degree and, perhaps more importantly, an openness to thinking outside the box can only help in the effort to get the ball rolling in a positive direction.
Miriam Sitz works for Accion Texas Inc., the nation’s largest non-profit microlender. A graduate of Trinity University, she blogs on Miriam210.com and sells handmade goods on TinderboxGoods.com. Follow her on Twitter at @miriamsitz. [Click here for more stories from Miriam Sitz on the Rivard Report.]
*This post has been updated on 3-31-13 with input from Jillian M. Reddish, Communications Specialist at Texas A&M University-San Antonio.