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Universities aid the new majority

But now, around 13 public universities later, Lindsay has seen that graduating in Texas with little to no debt is a possibility thanks to variations of Perry’s plan.

And the concept is not exclusive to Texas, as the UNC-system Board of Governors considered a similar proposal in 2013.

The Texas model

Lindsay, director of the Center for Higher Education at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, said he has been contacted by legislators nationwide looking to develop their own plans.

Perry’s original proposal — for two years of online learning and competency-based programs — has been specifically adopted by Texas A&M in Commerce, Texas.

But Kyle Beran, a chemistry professor at The University of Texas of the Permian Basin, said he has found his university’s Texas Science Scholar program, a variation of these $10,000-degrees, to be effective for majors with low enrollment numbers and low graduation rates.

“With empty seats and small academic programs, especially in the sciences, small schools can manage additional students from a TSS program without the administration having to invest additional resources,” Beran said.

He said this would particularly serve schools like UT-PB and its peer institution, UNC-Pembroke, who have a harder time differentiating themselves from other smaller universities to prospective students.

Lindsay said the programs are aimed at the new majority of college students — the nontraditional.

‘The new majority’

With rising numbers of nontraditional students nationally, traditional images of residential campuses do not always hold true, Lindsay said.

Qualifications for being a nontraditional student can range from working full-time to lacking a high school diploma or being a single parent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

“For them — the new majority — these sorts of programs may be their only ticket to the American dream,” Lindsay said.

Matthew Rascoff, vice president of the University of North Carolina’s Office of Learning Technology and Innovation, said the board has been developing online programs for nontraditional students.

Of the 42,783 undergraduates in the UNC system over the age of 24, almost a quarter were enrolled solely online in the 2013-14 academic year, he said.

Hannah Gage, former chairperson of the BOG, said when the board was considering the $10,000 degree model, the road was rockier than anticipated.

“I think part of it is how hard it is to move in new directions with educational delivery within a large institution like the University of North Carolina,” she said.

Deciding which degrees would be offered at discounted prices was a challenge, she said, which led to starting with a small, online degree program for members of the military.

“We are absolutely working on something similar, something that will be in (the $10,000) range, and we’re doing it in different ways,” Gage said.

She said the focus has shifted to helping students who might have dropped out of college and only need a few more courses to graduate, and developing the high-demand degrees that would combine two years of community college with two years of UNC Online.

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‘A good news story’

The affordable Texas models help to solve tuition hyperinflation and student loan debt that comes with it, Lindsay said.

“It has been solved at the intellectual level, now it’s just a question of political will,” he said. “Will public universities give these students what they need?”

Lindsay said he is optimistic that more states will adopt lower tuition degrees.

“Students and parents who have been worried should be encouraged by this, and need to know about this and to pursue it when their own sons and daughters are looking at colleges,” he said. “This is a good news story.”