Navarro College, a public community college about 60 miles south of Dallas, announced Thursday that it would be the first two-year institution in Texas to participate in the American Honors program — a growing network of honors colleges offered through Quad Learning, a for-profit company.
Students who enroll in the program at Navarro College will participate in classes designed to prepare them for coursework at four-year institutions around the country. The growing network — American Honors is running at six other community colleges in states such as Indiana, Washington and New Jersey — has agreements with public and private universities that ensure easy transfer of credit. Some universities also have agreements that allow students to receive a contingent acceptance. Students will also receive specialized advising to ease the transfer process.
"We serve a lot of low-income, first-generation students," Barbara Kavalier, the president of Navarro College, told The Texas Tribune. "They have not experienced role models. They haven't seen that pathway to a four-year degree. So it's very important that we build that pathway."
The pitch to students to opt for this pathway centers on the notion that knocking out the first two years of a four-year degree at a community college can help save money.
Last year, a study from TG, a nonprofit corporation that monitors issues relating to student debt, found that students who start in community college often end up borrowing about as much to finance their education as those who begin in universities. TG's researchers noted that this was often because of difficulties in transferring credit.
Chris Romer, a former Colorado state senator who is now the president of Quad Learning, said his company is seeking to address that issue.
The price tag for students enrolling in the new honors program at Navarro College, which will be piloted in the spring semester and officially launch in fall 2015, has yet to be determined. Romer said it would probably be about halfway between that of Navarro College and the University of Texas at Arlington. In fiscal year 2014, average yearly tuition and fees at Navarro were about $1,662. At UT-Arlington, they were $9,152.
Romer emphasized the collaborative nature of the partnership. "We do not do curriculum, we do not do instruction, we do not do accreditation, never want to be accredited," Romer said, noting that Quad Learning will work with the school's faculty to create the coursework. "We are simply a facilitator of a program."
Kavalier said she had not received any pushback from faculty about a for-profit company partnering with them to develop a new honors curriculum, and she noted that the new program would offer services that the college currently cannot afford to provide.
Romer said private-public partnerships are increasingly common in higher education. He said that he hopes to be able to expand the network's agreements with Texas universities.
He added that he ultimately wants to expand the American Honors network to 40 colleges around the country that collectively graduate around 10,000 students per year. "We're attempting to build the next Ivy League," he said.