University of Texas System launches program for students to finish degrees online
The University of Texas System has launched a new program aimed at college students with unfinished degrees, giving them the opportunity to finish their education online. The program works as a partnership between the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA), University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) and the University of Texas of the Permian Basin (UTPB).
Martha Ellis, the associate vice chancellor for community-college partnerships at the UT System, told the Texas Independent that the Finish@UT program was developed collaboratively among the UT System and UT institutions. “The concept was developed by institutional leaders and approved by regents and administrators,” said Ellis. “Among others playing a pivotal role in its development were faculty and advisers as well as the UT System online consortium staff working with them to get the program where it is today.”
“The program had its roots four years ago,” said Pete Smith, the Associate Vice President and Director-Office of the Provost and V. P. for Academic Affairs at UTA. “As we looked at the college completion market we found that a significant numbers of individuals in Texas amassed a fair number of college credits but haven’t completed. That was a group we wanted to reach.”
Smith told the Texas Independent that in developing the program it quickly became obvious that it needed to be available online. “It made sense that it had to be an online degree since the students utilizing it are likely to be in full time jobs or be parents,” said Smith. “We had to let them make choices that allow them to be flexible with their career plans. We offer clusters of classes and then logically weave them into a degree that fits their academic needs.”
The program had significant start-up costs. “The Board of Regents invested some seed money for marketing, faculty development, student support and technology,” said Ellis. “But costs are no different for any other academic program that any other institution would be operating.” The marketing for the program has been outsourced to the Austin-based company Hahn,Texas, but the classes themselves are not being outsourced and will be taught exclusively by system faculty.
The program will expand beyond the campuses it is currently offered at. “Institutions can choose to be a part of the Finish@UT program, so it is up to the institution to seek participation,” said Ellis. “UT Brownsville will be the next to participate, in the fall of 2012.”
While Ellis did not want to speculate or predict the number of degrees that may be earned through this program, she did share the number of students that the UT System expects to utilize Finish@UT. “About 125 students were in the pilot program,” said Ellis. “But the current projection is that that figure will double to 250 in fall of 2012.”
As the Texas Independent previously reported, UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa laid out a broad plan for the system in his “Framework for Excellence.” Ellis said that this new program falls in line with the goals established by that plan. “The program will help increase the number of degrees earned and will improve time to degree,” said Ellis. “It is also expected to help transfer students attain degrees in a more flexible manner. These are all mentioned as areas targeted for improvement in the chancellor’s framework action plan.”
With graduation rates under scrutiny, this program may help alleviate some of those concerns. Ellis sees the program as something that other university systems my want to emulate. “We expect the collaborative nature of the Finish@UT program to be a very attractive element for other programs,” said Ellis. “Prospective students will be especially drawn to the flexibility of course scheduling. So it may be very well perceived as a model worthy of replication elsewhere.”
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