Texas Governor Rick Perry is no stranger to out-of-the-box ideas when it comes to improving the state’s higher education system — and his latest proposal is no exception. Earlier this week, surrounded by academics and officials from the Texas Higher Education Agency, Perry called on the state’s public universities to offer programs that would allow students to work towards a diploma at their own pace.
Although adopting the model would help all students who feel that the traditional academic calendar is too restrictive, it is mainly aimed at those who feel that they can progress through a college degree program faster than the traditional four years and thus make their education more affordable. As a model, Perry used the approach taken by the Western Governors University and its satellite Texas campus.
WGU not only allows students to move through their courses as slowly or as quickly as they wish, it also accepts credit for various outside-of-class experiences including military service or a period of time in corporate employment. This is also similar to the state’s College Credit for Heroes program which allows veterans to earn community college credit for the time they spent in the armed services.
Speaking at a conference in Austin sponsored by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, Perry reiterated touchstones of his affordability campaign: freezing tuition for incoming freshmen for four years; providing fuller disclosure of the cost to students of taking four years, five years or longer to graduate; offering bachelor’s degree programs costing no more than $10,000 in academic and book charges; and linking a portion of each school’s state funding to graduation rates, the number of degrees awarded and other so-called student outcomes.
Several of the state’s public universities are already participating in a pilot program testing the competency-based education approach. Among those included in the trial are four health campuses which are looking at shortening the time it takes to earn a medical degree. Another six academic campuses are also participating, says University of Texas System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo.
The last Perry proposal to reduce the cost of higher education met with such enthusiasm was his challenge to the public university system to design degree programs that would cost no more than $10,000. Several schools, including University of Texas at Arlington and Sul Ross State University took up the challenge and will begin offering $10k degree programs starting next fall.
The programs will only be offered to exemplary high school students and will involve two years of college-level study while in the 11th and 12th grades followed by two years at a community college campus. The students will spend their last two years at a four-year university.