The Texas Science Scholar Program was approved at the University of Texas System Board of Regents meeting in Austin on Wednesday. The program will offer a four-year degree program costing $10,000 in the areas of geology, chemistry, computer science, information systems and math. The reduced price in tuition would save future students an annual amount of almost $4,000 per year.
David Watts, president of the University of Texas of the Permian Basin, presented a report and proposal for the new Texas Science Scholars Program. The board will vote on the item at the continuation of the meeting today Thursday; however it is expected to be approved.
Gene Powell, regent chair for the UT System board, said in a news release he was proud to see a UT System institution be the first in Texas to offer the $10,000 degree, as previously challenged by Gov. Rick Perry, on one campus.
Watts said he was pleased UTPB could offer “an innovative degree at an affordable cost to students.”
Bill Fannin, provost and vice president for academic affairs at UTPB, said he also thought the program presented an excellent opportunity for those students who are ready and willing to start a degree in one of the four specified degrees.
“We’re very pleased to offer it to Texas and meet that challenge,” Fannin said.
The reason UTPB is able to offer the program lies mainly in the recent addition of the university’s $54 million Science and Technology building.
Fannin said that since the completion of the math and science building in the fall, UTPB has a higher capacity for students. He said the campus has a capacity for 5,000 to 6,000 students but there are currently about 4,000 students and a lot of empty seats in classrooms, which could be filled without a major expense to UTPB.
“The opportunity has opened up. Why wait four or five years?” Fannin said.
And while the university does not have a set goal of added enrollment in mind, Fannin said, there could be an instance in the future where classroom capacity is met in certain programs and that would put a limit on the program’s availability.
“We don’t think our limits will be reached immediately,” Fannin said.
Mike Robinson, Ellen & Bill Noël Distinguished Professor for Energy Research and chemistry coordinator at UTPB, said the chemistry program has historically been small at UTPB as it is across the country because of the difficulty of classes. Robinson said the program enrollment fluctuates between 35 and 55 students and if the program allows them to have a few additional students, it would be great.
“If we get 20 or 30 students, we’d be jumping up and down,” Robinson said.
Robinson said in West Texas, attracting students to the chemistry program is difficult and thought if this program could bring in more students across the state, it was a good thing.
“It means a lot for the university,” Robinson said.
Paul Feit, department chair and mathematics program coordinator at UTPB, said he sees the program as an experiment. He said he expects the first year to primarily impact local students and possibly in future years could bring in students from other areas in the state.
“At my end it’s getting new faces in the classroom,” Feit said. “If it works, it will be a tremendous shot in the arm in many ways.”
The new program could go into effect in the fall, with criteria of maintaining full-time status and a minimum of a 3.0 grade point average. Students have to apply for the program through the university and will receive the discounted tuition cost only if accepted.
And while one plan approved a lower tuition cost for students, UTPB officials have also proposed a tuition increase, which could increase undergraduate tuition 2.57 percent annually for the 2012 school year and another 2.6 percent in the 2013 school year.
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