Inexpensive education

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STC named among top 25 most affordable online colleges in nation

Going to college is difficult enough with intensive coursework and scheduling, not to mention working part- or full-time while earning a degree. But when graduation day comes and the diploma is finally in hand, it’s time for the debt collectors to come calling for many college graduates across the United States — sometimes even before meaningful jobs are secured with that hard-won degree.

Student Loan Hero, a website dedicated to organizing, managing, and repaying student loans, finds that 44.2 million Americans share a part of $1.44 trillion in U.S. student loan debt as of July 2017. Even with the hard work of college behind them, many graduates find themselves overwhelmed with repaying student loans as they enter the workforce.

That’s where South Texas College comes in.

“One of the things that students do not have to worry about when they graduate is their debt,” said Mike Carranza, interim dean for Enrollment Services at STC. “When students graduate debt free, they can actually start their career not worrying about the loans or repayments or forbearances.”

STC is already the most affordable college in the Rio Grande Valley. According to an STC news release, the price of a 2017-18 two-year degree comprising 60 credit hours for in-district students is $7,480.

“The amount students would pay in a year is pretty reasonable when compared to going elsewhere,” Carranza said.

STC has been lauded for its affordability beyond the RGV. Web college guide OnlineU, produced by SR Education group, recently named STC as one of the top 25 most affordable online colleges in the entire nation. Being included on ratings lists like this one helps students from many different places find STC and decide whether the program, price, and curriculum is what they need, said Matt Hebbard, vice president for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management at STC.

“We have a graduate in May who we met at our ceremony who was from the Dallas area,” he said. “She was a first-generation Cuban-American. She came to our graduation ceremony all the way from Dallas; her mother flew in from Miami. She found us because of one of these ratings, and she did our bachelor of applied science and healthcare technology management. She did it completely online — very affordable for Texas residents in other parts of Texas — and it just allowed her to continue her job employed in the healthcare industry and also complete a bachelor’s degree. It gives a lot of students not only the affordability, the flexibility, but the ability to go to the next level in their careers.”

Screen Shot 2017-09-08 at 11.11.23 AMOnlineU highlighted STC’s 18 online associate degrees, four bachelor’s degrees, and eight online certificate programs as part of the college’s draws for online student applicants. But even the convenience of taking classes online doesn’t mean that students have to trade in the personal interactions with instructors and advisers.

“We have online support services,” Hebbard said. “We have our call centers available from 7:30 in the morning to 10 at night during the weekdays. We do have weekend hours. Our distance learning department has a great staff. They help students out. There’s a lot of online services available to the students 24/7.”

Another online component to STC’s educational offerings is the competency-based program for bachelor’s degrees in applied science in organizational leadership and applied technology and science. According to the STC website, “the first 90 hours of instruction are available through online modules and the last 30 hours are a combination of face-to-face and online.” One of the draws for this program is that it can be completed at the student’s own pace. This means that, provided they demonstrate excellence in the courses they take, students could take as many courses as they could handle per term. Each term carries a flat tuition rate of $750 no matter how many courses the student takes.

“In a seven-week period we charge a flat rate — $750 — and a student can work on as many competencies as they want,” Hebbard said. “Each competency corresponds to a course requirement for an actual degree. So what we like is that it’s affordable along with all of our other online options, and the competencies are really accelerated, really focused for the students.”

Students don’t have to resign themselves to a reality of years of debt repayment after they graduate college. STC and its affordable online offerings are proof of that.