For a select group of San Antonio students, one of the cheapest four-year degrees in America is now available at Texas A&M University-San Antonio.
The “Affordable Degree,” a $10,000 bachelors degree in applied arts and sciences with emphasis on information technology, was announced last month by Maria Hernandez Ferrier, president of TAMSA. The degree is only available to San Antonio-area students who begin early by taking college courses in their junior year of high school.
The students can then have most of their course requirements completed in high school, free of the tuition they would be paying for the same classes in college, said TAMSA communications specialist Jillian Reddish.
“This program is bringing in a pretty high caliber of students who are already thinking about their future plans,” Reddish said. “The potential was there already.”
The program also requires each student to take two years of classes with the Alamo Colleges, allowing TAMSA to increase cooperation with the San Antonio community college system, said TAMSA spokeswoman Marilu Reyna.
“The community college option will be an essential partnership for those in higher education,” Reyna said. “We hope this program gets families talking with their children at an early age about college and tuition.”
The degree was partly an answer to the call of Gov. Rick Perry at his last State of the State address, when he asked for a $10,000 degree that included tuition and books in its cost.
“This degree option comes in at under $10,000, so it does answer Perry’s call,” Reyna said. “[It is] an answer for affordable degree options during these tough economic times.”
TAMSA is looking for ways to expand the program into other areas that guarantee jobs for San Antonio students, Reyna said.
“We will look at the various programs we have in place to see how we can partner with community colleges to make more degree options available,” Reyna said. “We will then concentrate on areas of study that yield our graduates with job opportunities when they graduate.”
San Antonio College, the community college TAMSA is partnering with, specializes in information technology. San Antonio has a large market for technology jobs, an expanding area of the “silicon valley” that has grown in Central Texas, Reddish said.
“Because we have such a high demand in San Antonio for technology jobs, many of the schools here have laid groundwork to create well-qualified graduates in these sectors,” Reddish said. “It’s a cyclical process, and you can’t have one without the other.”
Victoria Sertich, a 3D animation student in the Alamo Colleges system who hopes to transfer to TAMSA, said she was very happy to hear about a degree that was cheap, of quality and useful.
Sertich said while the degree was good for students entering the market right now, once jobs begin to fill up from the high volume of graduates, the degree could become less applicable in the future.
“At first, people who need spots are going to be able to find jobs, but of course [the job market] is going to get saturated,” Sertich said. “In the future it might be a little shaky, although there will probably be a new demand by then.”
TAMSA is a new university and is willing to experiment with different kinds of degree programs, Sertich said, while more prestigious universities will not be willing to drastically lower their tuition fees.
UT spokeswoman Tara Doolittle said the University is not officially considering such a program, although President William Powers Jr. has previously mentioned introducing this type of degree.
“We’re always looking at efficiency and ways to contain costs,” Doolittle said. “While we don’t offer a $10,000 degree, a quarter of our freshmen only pay $2,500 a year out-of-pocket. This is certainly in play, although it may not be a formal degree plan like the one in San Antonio.”
Printed on Monday, April 9, 2012 as: A&M-San Antonio creates affordable degree