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TCC, WGU-Texas partner to help adult learners; legislature can help

Tarrant County College unveils Center of Excellence for Energy Technology

Students studying energy efficiency attend classes in the new buildings at TCC South Campus.
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Students studying energy efficiency attend classes in the new buildings at TCC South Campus.

The 101: The Higher Ed Poll of Texas (The 101), released this 86th Legislative Session revealed that 90 percent of Texans agree it is essential to have an educated workforce if Texas’ economy, the second-largest in the nation, is going to continue to be competitive and productive in the future.

However, there are currently about 4 million Texans with some college education but no college degree. In Tarrant County, almost 25 percent of adults 25 years or older have some college and no degree.

This raises an important question: If Texans are aware of the value of a college degree, then why do so many stop pursuing their education?

The 101 poll found that Texans consider cost as the primary obstacle to obtaining advanced degrees. In addition to jobs and personal responsibilities, both student loan debt and transferring hours or credits are considered significant obstacles as well.

If the state of Texas plans to have a steady, well-equipped workforce supporting our economy in future decades, then it is the responsibility of its higher education institutions and policy leaders to make obtaining a degree as convenient, accessible and affordable as possible.

Tarrant County College (TCC), a two-year college that offers industry-recognized credentials, certificates of completion and associates degrees, and the online, non-profit university WGU Texas are doing their part by formalizing a partnership that creates affordable pathways for obtaining accredited bachelor’s and master’s degrees in high-demand fields including business, health professions, information technology and teaching.

Through this partnership, TCC graduates, faculty and staff will now receive a 5 percent discounted tuition at WGU Texas and exclusive partner scholarships valued at up to $2,000. Additionally, students transferring from TCC can expect a comprehensive transfer policy, so their hours and credits will carry forward at WGU Texas.

WGU Texas, which pioneered competency-based education (CBE), is especially well-suited for adult students who come to college with varying levels of learning styles and knowledge. The entirely online university currently has the largest and most established CBE program in the state, with enrollment at more than 12,400 full-time students — and more than 1,200 of those students are from Tarrant County.

WGU Texas’ online CBE model is a highly effective way to reach non-traditional students across Texas. Our CBE model measures learning and competency rather than the amount of time spent in a classroom seat. When students come to the program, they are able to apply real-world experience to their education and can accelerate their time to degree completion.

CBE is ideal for these contemporary adult learners, who come to college with different learning styles, time constraints and a wide array of existing knowledge and skills.

As we learned from the findings of The 101 poll, there is an increased likelihood that, with the right support, resources and access, Texans can complete their pursuit of higher education degrees or certificates. But that access depends, in part, on being eligible for state-based financial aid.

WGU Texas is working with the state Legislature to advance the future of higher education during the 86th Legislative Session by advocating for the passage of Senate Bill 1770/House Bill 3657, sponsored by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, and Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie; and Senate Bill 1758/House Bill 3382, sponsored by Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, and Rep. Leo Pacheco, D-San Antonio.

These bills make more financial aid opportunities available to students pursuing degrees in high-demand fields like nursing, teaching, community services and STEM, and to students enrolled in full-time CBE baccalaureate programs at nonprofit and public institutions.

By opening the pool of state-based financial aid dollars to students pursuing degrees in high-demand fields and to all students enrolled in accredited CBE programs, the Legislature will make a critical investment in human capital, our state’s most valuable resource — and in turn, strengthen our workforce, our economy and our ability to compete in an increasingly competitive world.

It will be important for WGU Texas, community colleges and the Texas Legislature to continue re-engaging contemporary adult learners — an often-overlooked, yet rapidly expanding student population — and help give them an opportunity to rewrite their stories by embracing a 21st-century approach to higher education.

A longtime leader in Texas higher education and policy, Dr. Steven E. Johnson is the chancellor of WGU Texas, a state-endorsed, nonprofit, accredited online university launched in August 2011 to expand access to affordable, high-quality educational opportunities with great outcomes for Texans across the Lone Star state.