A college degree in three years? KU program that can save students thousands is expanding
University of Kansas programs allowing high school students to start their post-secondary education early are an “innovative” example of how universities can help address the rising cost of tuition, said Dennis Mullin, the chair of the Kansas Board of Regents.
For the last few years, KU’s Edwards Campus, a satellite campus in Overland Park, has been offering a “Degree in Three” program to its local high school students. Last month, KU Edwards added USD 232 in De Soto to its Degree in Three, making it the seventh district in the Kansas City metropolitan area to join.
Degree in Three allows high school students to take concurrent courses, which are classes that count toward their high school requirements as well as college credit. The program allows the students to work toward specific KU degrees to encourage students to graduate in three years, rather than the standard four years. Here in Lawrence, USD 497 recently expanded its own “Jayhawk Blueprint” program with the same goal.
While higher education in Kansas has faced several issues in recent years, the most notable may be a decrease in enrollment and a rapid increase in tuition costs.
“We’re really trying to encourage thinking outside of the box trying to get the cost of education down,” Mullin said. “Tuition is bumping up to its ceiling, in my opinion, to the point where it’s discouraging families to get higher education. That’s a concern, and we are trying to be innovative in how we handle that.”
Cutting one year off the time a student spends at KU could easily save students or their families $20,000. According to average cost of attendance figures provided as part of KU’s common data set program, the standard in-state tuition for an undergraduate is $10,092 for a full school year. On campus room and board costs another $10,350, on average. Plus, the university charges a little more than $1,000 in required fees each year.
The KU Edwards program is able to help keep costs down because the high school students take concurrent courses through local community colleges, which offer much lower rates, said Chris Gregory, a spokesman for KU Edwards campus. The participating community colleges are Johnson County Community College, Kansas City Kansas Community College and Metropolitan Community College in Kansas City, Mo. Once the student finishes the courses of their first two years in the program through the community college, they would then enroll at KU Edwards and pay the university’s standard tuition rate, he said.
The program may also help encourage more high school students to attend college after they graduate, which would help increase enrollment in Kansas, Mullin said. An aftereffect could be helping Kansas businesses find more talented employees, which in turn could help boost the Kansas economy.
“I think it makes all the sense in the world,” Mullin said.
David Cook, vice chancellor for KU Edwards, said the program is a good opportunity for students who are already aware of what degree they want to obtain. The program is specifically made for pathways to a degree in business administration, biotechnology, exercise science, law and society, molecular biosciences, public administration or literature, language and writing.
Additionally, the program may help students because they will be able to work with an academic adviser earlier in their college career to help them map out their higher education journey.
“To the extent that they have a sense of where they are heading, we can get them there in a streamlined way,” he said. “But there is no reason a kid halfway through it couldn’t change their mind and go in a different direction, and I would consider that a benefit too. We’re helping them figure out what they want to be a little sooner than they would have otherwise.”
While all of the school districts currently participating in the KU Edwards program are located in the Kansas City metro area, on both sides of the state line, Cook said he is hoping it can expand further into Kansas.
“This is a big tent,” he said. “It’s really been growing quickly (and) we’re certainly interested in continuing to grow.”
Although KU has “taken the lead” on offering these programs with local school districts, other school districts around the state have been hesitant to join these types of programs, Mullin said.
“To my surprise, a lot of school districts don’t want to touch it for some reason,” Mullin said, referring to offering concurrent courses. “That’s what we’re going to work on.”
The school district in Lawrence, however, will likely not be joining the KU Edwards program. Not because it does not provide a valuable opportunity, but because the local school district already has its own plan, said Jennifer Bessolo, curriculum director for USD 497.
In the fall, USD 497 and the main KU campus here in Lawrence finalized an expansion of the school district’s “Jayhawk Blueprint” program. The program now allows USD 497 high school students to take 11 concurrent courses.
“We feel very fortunate to have KU here in our backyard,” Bessolo said. “We (wanted) to make sure our students stay competitive with surrounding students who already have concurrent course partnerships, like Johnson County.”
Bessolo noted the program does not affect the amount of advanced placement courses available to students and called the Jayhawk Blueprint a “parallel” program.
Similar to Degree in Three, the Jayhawk Blueprint offers the concurrent courses at a lower rate. Bessolo said the Lawrence program offers the concurrent courses at one-third rate of standard KU tuition.
Additionally, the Lawrence program received a $50,000 grant, almost half of which will be used to offer needs-based scholarships to cash-strapped students who otherwise couldn’t afford the program.
“We didn’t want that to be a reason students don’t take the opportunity,” she said. “We didn’t want there to be a gap between those who can afford and can’t.”
While the KU Edwards program focuses on specific degrees for students to work toward, the USD 497 program is more open, providing general education courses instead. Focusing on general education may also make it easier for student to transfer those credits to other universities if the student chooses not to attend KU for college, she said.
“This is opening Lawrence opportunities up to quite a few different degree programs,” she said. “Nearly everything KU has offered to us is a core (course) that is transferable.”
Originally, USD 497 explored joining the Degree in Three program, but decided to craft its own because it has the benefit of sharing a city with the university’s main campus.
“We feel like we got the crown jewel,” Bessolo said. “We’re really excited to have this to offer to our students because we feel strongly it’s the best program we can offer our students.”
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