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March 4, 2014

Offering affordable college degrees

COMMERCE — A new degree program at Texas A&M University-Commerce could potentially cut the amount of money a student pays for college by more than half.

The average cost for a student to attend college at a public university is $15,000 per year. Under the new Texas Affordable Baccalaureate Degree program, a bachelor’s degree could cost students as little as $10,000.

The plan was initiated by Gov. Rick Perry during his January 2011 State of the State address, in which he challenged state universities to create a $10,000 degree.

A&M-Commerce President Dr. Dan Jones said members of the university brainstormed ways to make a more cost-effective degree. In order to cut costs, the teaching method had to change, Jones said.

“A group of faculty members versed in technology told me if we try to do it the way we were doing, we would run out of money,” he said, adding the faculty members then came up with a competency-based instruction method. “For competency-based instruction, learning is the constant; time is the variable.”

Jones and faculty members held conversations with the higher education board in Austin to get a $1 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. From there, the team began to develop a new method of instruction that relied heavily on online courses.

“They developed a technology-intensive delivery platform for students to graduate with a baccalaureate degree,” he said.

Jones said developing a model program for the competency-based degree was an “enormously complex process” and thanks the faculty and leadership for working to make the degree possible. After more than a year of planning, A&M-Commerce launched a degree in applied science in organizational leadership on Jan. 30 of this year with eight students enrolled in the prototype.

“It was an intensive year,” he said, adding they did not get the final approval until mid-December of 2013.

Since the program is competency-based, students take a test at the beginning of a seven week semester to determine where they will be placed in the instruction.

“You shouldn’t have to be taught things you already know,” he said, adding that from their first test, lessons are tailored to what a student needs to learn in order to pass the course.

Students must take at least two courses per seven week semester. The cost per semester is $750, which includes the required e-books for the course.  

In the seven week semester, students can enroll in as many competency-based courses as they choose. Since every course is online, Jones said the program requires a student’s self-discipline in order to complete the courses.

Jones said the degree works well with people who went to college but now have full-time jobs with families who are not able to attend college in a traditional way any longer.

A&M-Commerce is the first public university in Texas to offer the degree, and Jones said they plan to roll out several new degree programs before 2020.

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