by Reeve Hamilton | Texas Tribune
December 13, 2011
The University of Texas System is creating a new path to completion for students who attempted but — for whatever reason — have been unable to finish their college degree.
The Finish@UT program, which launched last week, is a selection of UT-System-approved online courses aimed primarily at students between ages 25 and 35 who have already amassed credits toward an undergraduate degree. “Particularly those students who have had various life issues intervene and cannot get to campus on a regular basis,” said Martha Ellis, associate vice chancellor for community college partnerships at the UT System.
So far, three institutions are participating, and each offers a different degree. Students can earn a bachelor of science in university studies degree at UT-Arlington, a bachelor of multidisciplinary studies degree at UT-El Paso or a bachelor of arts in humanities degree at UT-Permian Basin.
Students must apply and be accepted to the institution from which they will ultimately graduate, but once they are in the system, they can take courses from all three.
So far, the program is fairly small. This fall, 18 students were enrolled with the declared intent to graduate at UT-Arlington, 40 at UT-El Paso and 72 at UT-Permian Basin. However, the total course enrollments were significantly higher at each university, which, according to Ellis, indicates “some students are taking more than one class and from more than one institution.”
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This summer, the UT System increased its commitment to developing new options for blended and online learning. UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa’s framework for the future of the system, which was unanimously approved by the board of regents in August, included a $50 million investment in a new Institute of Transformational Learning, which will focus on such issues.
Other institutions in the system have also been investing in online expansion. UT-Arlington, for example, has a deal with Academic Partnerships, a private company owned by Dallas entrepreneur Randy Best that focuses on translating public university programs into online courses.
While somewhat similar in spirit, Ellis said those initiatives are separate from Finish@UT, which has been in development for about two years — one year of planning, followed by another of pilot projects.
In addition to the ability to earn a degree from the highly regarded UT System, Ellis said the primary benefits of the program for students are the flexible scheduling and degree personalization. “We want to know: How can we tailor a degree to get you a quality degree best utilizing the coursework that you’ve taken to date?” she said.
Students need not have begun their studies at a UT System institution, nor do they need to be Texas residents, to participate, and prices vary based on institution. For Texas residents, 12 credits — a full load — will cost roughly $4,448 at UT-Arlington, $2,815 at UT-El Paso and $2,697 at UT-Permian Basin.
While it’s possible that the program could generate revenue at a time of declining state funding, Ellis said that was not the driving force behind the program's conception. “Revenue? Sure, that would be great too,” she said, “but the primary purpose is to meet the needs to the state of Texas with having a trained work force.”