July 25, 2012

Area educators team up to offer $10,000 bachelor's degree

Students in the Arlington and Mansfield school districts now have the chance to earn a bachelor's degree for about $10,000, or a third of the usual cost.

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Students in the Arlington and Mansfield school districts now have the chance to earn a bachelor's degree for about $10,000, or a third of the usual cost.

But they'd better be dedicated, because the new program announced this week by the University of Texas at Arlington, the Tarrant County College system and the school districts is not for casual learners. It requires six years of study beginning in high school.

Juniors and seniors in the two districts' high schools will be able to earn 24 hours of college credit during their high school careers, then enter Tarrant County College for a two-year associate degree, and transition to UT-Arlington for the final two years of their baccalaureate degrees.

The program is a response to Gov. Rick Perry's 2011 challenge to state colleges and universities to come up with a $10,000 bachelor's degree.

"I think it's genius," said Jane Harper, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs at Tarrant County College. "We've been working for years to come up with just the right program. I'm devastated by the tales of students who come out of college with their first degree and are tens of thousands of dollars in debt."

TCC has offered the dual-credit courses to thousands of high school students every semester, but the new program offers a seamless path from high school to UT-Arlington.

"There's a real demand for higher education, and at the same time lawmakers have been calling for efficiencies," said Kristin Sullivan, assistant vice president for media relations at UT-Arlington.

In addition to scholarships, UT-Arlington and TCC will provide additional academic and curriculum advisers to smooth students' path and guarantee that they stay on track.

"This is aligning courses at the high school level with community colleges and with the four-year level, to make sure the courses count," Sullivan said.

The savings mount as the students continue through the six-year plan.

Students who complete all three phases of the program and qualify for the scholarships could save as much as $25,000 off the cost of their baccalaureate degrees, and end up paying a total of $10,000 or less for the entire program.

About 700 Arlington students currently take dual courses and could be eligible. Last year, those students took 1,283 dual-credit courses. Mansfield has 370 dual-credit students.

Twenty-four dual-credit hours not only earn the student high school credit, but equal an entire year of college credit.The new program is expected to boost the number of students who take dual-credit courses in high school.

"Absolutely," said Marcelo Cavazos, Arlington's interim superintendent. "The interest in dual-credit continues to increase ... with our students and parents.

"It offers the opportunity to accelerate their preparedness, and it sets that foundation for students to ... be successful in college after graduation."

Cavazos said Arlington students often take dual-credit courses during the summer and fulfill other graduation requirements during the school year.

For this program casual students need not apply.

"This is not for everyone," Sullivan said. "It takes a dedicated student."

For the savings to work, Harper said, students cannot drop out or take a breather.

The $10,000 degree idea is getting attention from other schools and systems across the state, including a $9,672 degree plan in San Antonio between Alamo Colleges and Texas A&M.

The Texas State University system has also been making plans for its schools.

Shirley Jinkins, 817-390-7657

Twitter: @startelegram

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