Five years after the doors opened to Collin County’s first university center, student enrollment figures are trouncing the original projections. Collin College officials reported this week that enrollment reached 3,321 at the Collin Higher Education Center (CHEC) in 2014-2015, which is nearly triple the student count at inception and twice the enrollment projected.
Collin College opened the 125,000-square-foot center with university partners in January of 2010 giving local resident’s access to junior and senior-level college courses for bachelor’s degrees as well as master’s and doctoral programs in their home county. University partners include Texas A&M University-Commerce, Texas Tech University, Texas Woman’s University, The University of Texas at Dallas and the University of North Texas. The facility also houses the district headquarters for Collin College.
According to Dr. Bob Collins, who chairs the Collin College Board of Trustees, “There was a time when a student with a full-time job could commute to a university after work for night classes. Today, that’s nearly impossible because of gridlock on the highways in Collin County. We created CHEC so our students could complete associate degrees at Collin College and then earn university degrees without leaving Collin County. Clearly, it’s working.”
Collin County leads the state on the percentage of adults over 25 holding a bachelor’s degree or higher. When Collin College officials began discussing the university center concept, they commissioned a study to gauge local interest. The survey spoke loud and clear that, even with an educational attainment rate in the nation’s 99th percentile, the community of 885,000 people was thirsty for more. The study found that 55 percent of local residents surveyed were interested in pursuing a college degree, of which 35 percent wanted bachelor’s degrees and 65 percent had ambitions for master’s degrees.
“For students, the bottom line is cost savings,” said Collin College District President Dr. Neil Matkin. “Collin College has the lowest tuition in the state, and we are committed to a model that doesn’t leave students paying on loan debt for the rest of their lives.”
A student who completes an associate degree in e-business web development at Collin College would pay $2,348 in tuition and fees, and then $21,980 for the remaining credits for a bachelor’s degree at CHEC through the University of North Texas for a grand total of $24,328. If the same student had earned a bachelor’s degree entirely at the university, the total would have been $40,360, so the student stands to save more than $16,000 with two years at Collin.
Forty million Americans are now struggling with student loan payments, so the potential for five-digit savings is significant. Experian estimates student loan debt at $1.2 trillion in the United States, and experts say debt of this magnitude delays or prevents a growing percentage of Americans from buying cars or homes and also slows marriage, children and even saving for retirement, which ultimately hurts the national economy.
“We have to be innovative to avoid pricing students out of a degree or setting them up for a vicious cycle of debt. Partnership is a mighty hammer in the higher education toolbox,” Dr. Matkin said.
Representatives from the city of McKinney are delighted with their investment in the CHEC collaboration. When city officials originally learned about the university center idea, the McKinney Economic Development Corporation got involved and donated 5.5 acres of land along with $2 million toward a parking garage. The location, at the intersection of U.S. Highway 75 and the Sam Rayburn Tollway in McKinney, was ideal for students and placed the center directly in the heart of the college’s service area.
“McKinney has unparalleled quality of life, and education is a key component of our quality of life. Collin College has provided higher education opportunities in McKinney for 30 years. The city and Collin College have an enduring, strong partnership, and we are proud to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Collin Higher Education Center at the McKinney Gateway development,” said McKinney Mayor Brian Loughmiller.
Students at CHEC currently can choose from bachelor’s degree programs in accounting, alternative dispute resolution, business administration, business management, child development, interdisciplinary studies (elementary education), general studies, human sciences, logistics, marketing, math (with teacher certification), nursing, psychology, sociology, Spanish and sports and recreation management as well as university studies. The facility also houses master’s and doctoral-level programs including accounting, business administration, counseling, curriculum and instruction, educational administration, higher education, health care administration and social work.
College officials plan to expand and add degree programs, like new partner Texas Tech, which is gearing up for its first classes at CHEC.
“The five-year trend line in demand at the university center gives us an opportunity to turn up the volume and build on the success while still keeping students first. We cannot thank our fine university partners enough for their teamwork and cooperation,” Dr. Matkin said.