President Flores Writes Op-Ed for Houston Chronicle on Low-Cost Education
Low-cost college is key to professional success
By: Dr. William Flores
As president of the University of Houston-Downtown, I routinely query older students to determine what factors pushed them to return to college. One story in particular arises frequently. Again and again, students tell me that they decided to resume their studies when they tired of training others, only to see those they trained become their supervisors, simply because they lacked the degree to move up the professional ladder themselves.
The Lumina Foundation for Education has set a lofty goal for 60 percent of adults in the United States to earn a college degree by 2025. To reach this objective, we must support one significant student population - and they are hiding in plain sight. Approximately 23 percent of Texans have some post-secondary credit, but no degree. They are working mothers, veterans and hard-working businessmen who long to complete a degree they began decades before. Adult learners represent the fastest-growing population in higher education today. Reaching and re-energizing this large segment of students is a critical challenge and one that must be addressed to achieve the state of Texas' ambitious Closing the Gaps by 2015 goals.
Nearly 1 million Houstonians have "stopped-out" of college due to a variety of competing demands. These students often juggle multiple family and work responsibilities and traditional higher-education models do not fit their needs or schedules.
To best help adult learners earn their degree, we must meet them where they are and collaborate to limit their barriers to graduation.
- Using Technology and Flexible Scheduling to Reengage Adult Learners:
For adult learners, innovative technology offers them the flexibility to work, raise a family and complete their college degree. The exponential growth of online classes and entire computer-based degrees are a testament to the high demand for convenient, student-centered adult instruction. Similarly, evening and weekend programs, as well as site-based distance learning, allow students to work and attend school full-time - close to home and without neglecting job responsibilities.
- Collaborating to Ensure Student Success:
Attracting, serving and ensuring the success of public universities' increasingly older student populations are the responsibility of universities, partnering community colleges and industries seeking an educated workforce.
Community colleges serve a vital role in opening the door of education to thousands of area students. In addition to opening this door, together, we must help lead adult learners through the entire degree-completion process. Nearly a quarter of a million Houstonians enrolled at more than a dozen regional community colleges rely on higher education to guide them along the most direct, timely pathway to a degree. However, on average, students who transfer from one institution to another take at least 20 more credit hours than they need to achieve a bachelor's degree
To prevent this costly reality, partnerships between two- and four-year institutions are vital to help students graduate on time, on their degree track and with the least amount of debt.
- Affordability is Key to Attracting Adult Learners:
To break through the professional ceiling many adult learners face without a degree, students must have a feasible, affordable pathway to higher education. Nationally, cost is cited as a critical deterrent to completing a college degree. This does not have to be the case. UHD is among those Texas universities that offer a low-cost tuition with a high return on investment.
Many adult students are the first in their families to attend college and are unaware of the financial aid options available to them. In addition to university scholarships and Pell grants, colleges must educate students about outside scholarships, work-study options and forgivable loan programs.
- Key Strategy Outcomes:
Affordable tuition is the first step; the second objective of higher education is producing graduates with high earning potential. It is incumbent upon universities to educate students on the relationship between various degrees and corresponding career paths based on their individual backgrounds and strengths.
UHD is pleased to be a part of the "My Degree Counts" program of the Center for Houston's Future and the national CEOs for Cities initiative to raise the number of Houston adults with college degrees. By offering a low cost of tuition with a high return on investment, we can help this large segment of society realize their dream of a college degree, while supporting industry and Houston communities in the process.