January 31, 2014: The Best Value in Higher Education

Last week we broke the good news that Sul Ross State University had been recognized by U.S. News and World Report as the fourth most affordable university in the U.S.A, and by default, #1 in the State of Texas. I also suggested that Sul Ross would be highly ranked on a similar virtue if we were to talk about value since we have the best residential housing in Texas, wonderful instructors and staff, very small classes where faculty get to know every student by name, and arguably the best year ‘round weather in the country. Of course I forgot to mention campus safety. Enjoying an intimate, small campus environment in a small town naturally lends itself to a campus where students can experience a level of safety that they probably won’t find anywhere else in the world. These are all good things by and in themselves, but in conclusion I also argued that students attending Sul Ross and our Lobo Alumni necessarily must be some of the wisest people on earth for having made such a good decision to attend college here.

But I got to thinking a bit later about something else. Fourth in the U.S. and first in Texas are pretty good accomplishments but we are even better than our published numbers in two important respects which may make us #1 in BOTH categories. First, we have made considerable progress in the past year developing a dual college credit program with high schools in the region that will significantly impact the price of college for secondary students who take advantage of this opportunity. Think about it. Cutting out one or two years of college before they ever set foot on campus means that these students can reduce by one-fourth or up to one-half of their tuition, fees, and housing costs. So maybe we beat the University of Wyoming after all?

A second way that our numbers really do not accurately reflect and may well overstate student college costs is in terms of our students who elect to pursue the Rio Grande College experience. At RGC, students ordinarily transfer from Southwest Texas Junior College (SWTJC) where they pay $1308 per semester for 15 community college credit hours. This is a significantly lower amount per year than our undergraduate students pay for upper division coursework their junior and senior years at Sul Ross. And that’s not even bringing into play the $10,000 degree options in Biology and Mathematics that are available at RGC!

One more thing while we are on the subject of college affordability. Our preferred business partner at RGC is presided over by Dr. Hector Gonzales, none other than a Sul Ross graduate himself! President Gonzales has worked at SWTJC since 1999 and became President last August. Before that he was chief academic and financial officer of the College. During that time he was recognized by the White House as a Champion of Change for Community Colleges, and immediately following that, the Aspen Institute recognized SWTJC as a Top 10 Community College. We are in excellent company when we partner with Dr. Gonzales and Southwest Texas Junior College. Combined together, we may well offer the #1 most affordable college degree pathway in the United States when looked at from this perspective. Wise as our graduates are, they are even wiser than I originally thought!