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UTRGV partners with STC to create fast track to education degrees

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UTRGV Education Complex on the Edinburg campus. (UTRGV Archival Photo by Silver Salas)
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Texas Border Business

By Victoria Brito Morales

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – UTRGV and South Texas College have partnered to create a competency-based education program that creates a pathway to an undergraduate degree in early childhood studies.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in 2019 awarded the project $230,000. Dr. John Lowdermilk, chair of the UTRGV Department of Human Development and School Services and professor of Human Development and School Services in the College of Education and P-16 Integration, is principal investigator on the project.

Dr. Vejoya Viren, associate professor of Human Development and School Services, is co-PI.

The program awards bachelor’s degrees to prospective students via modules administered at a reduced cost.

There are two tracks within the early childhood program – a certified track for those wishing to become teachers in Texas, and a non-certified track for those who want to work in a child development setting, like a daycare, Headstart or pediatrics center. This competency-based track is only for those wishing to take the non-certified route.

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“The idea of the grant is, you have lots of people in Valley communities who are working in these different settings,” Lowdermilk said. “Some have many years of experience in professional development, and some have many hours of college credit but have not completed their degree. This allows students to come back and complete a degree. It is 100 percent online and it is competency based.”

With a competency-based structure, the student takes an online pre-test that is content-based. Depending on the score, the student then will proceed to certain modules, which work on the student’s strengths. Once the student attains 80 percent on the competency, they receive credit for that course.

“We have it set up similar to our accelerated online program where it is seven and a half weeks, but you can potentially finish the program very quickly. Or you may take longer – it just depends on the student,” Lowdermilk said.

The 120-credit hour program will start at STC, where the first 75 core credit hours are attained. Then, the student transfers to UTRGV to take their final 45 credit hours in the College of Education and P-16 Integration.

Courses include educational psychology, special education and early childhood development.

“You can take as many or few courses as you want to per semester,” Lowdermilk said. “They are traditional three-hour courses, and you receive the same degree as the traditional students receive.

“You are receiving the same quality of education, just done more expediently, taking into account people who have families and cannot do the traditional route,” he said.

The program is in early stages and the first cohort of this grant is expected to enter the UTRGV CEP from STC in fall 2021.

Dr. Alma Rodriguez, dean of the College of Education and P-16 Integration, said this online pathway is not only affordable, but also allows students to progress at an individual’s pace. 

“This partnership with South Texas College is allowing us to offer a pathway for individuals with work experiences in childcare to complete their degree in early care and early childhood education,” she said. “This is a true game-changer for students pursuing early care and early childhood studies.”

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