Sep 25th 2015 | Posted in Mary Scott Nabers' Insights by Mary Scott Nabers

UTRGVThe new University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) made headlines recently when it opened its doors because it is the state’s newest four-year university and medical school. Now, it is making headlines again — this time as it becomes the first university in the nation to offer an all-digital degree program.

Students enrolled in the school’s biomedical sciences degree program won’t be making trips to the campus bookstore. That’s because they will never have to purchase a traditional textbook. So, instead of spending between $700 and $900 for course materials, students will pay a $350 fee each semester that includes use of an iPad and all content needed for coursework.

All of the course content is accessible to students on their iPads via a mobile application. The app, TEx (Total Educational Experience) provides online access and support to students from both faculty members and “success coaches” and it is designed to keep students on a structured academic track.

Students can access coursework through the iPads from any location with Internet access. The mobile devices also have an offline component so that if students cannot access the Internet from a remote location, they can still complete homework and other classwork that does not require them to be online.

The “classroom” for the more than 150 students currently enrolled in the program is more than just a seat in an academic facility, according to Amy Shackelford, Director of Strategic Partnerships at the UT System. Instead, the coursework also includes online work, lab and clinical time. The average week includes about seven hours of face time with instructors and fellow students as well as additional lab or clinical time.

The digital program was a natural fit for the biomedical sciences program, according to UT System officials. With UTRGV preparing to open its medical school, they already were working on structuring educational avenues that would lead to a student competency-based track to medical school.

A competency-based track was the first step in a recently announced System education initiative. Students are able to move at their own pace through prescribed academic work based on competency and knowledge about the coursework. The program offers personalized courses as well as individual support from instructors and support staff. Students in the all-digital program face a traditional, four-year, 120-credit-hour degree program, but because the program is competency-based, some will be able to complete it in three years. University officials are confident that graduates of the program who plan a medical career will be better prepared to take the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) and better prepared to enter medical school.

Because the Valley has suffered a dearth of trained medical professionals for years, area residents and members of the medical and education communities are hopeful this initiative will lead to an increase in the number of physicians in South Texas.

If successful, and early indicators are that it will be, the program could become a blueprint for similar programs in other universities throughout the country. It could also lead to a new educational model for meeting the academic and personal needs of students seeking careers in high-demand industries.

SPI’s consultants will be sure to keep track of this and similar emerging trends. To stay up to date, remember to subscribe to our newsletters.

Mary Scott Nabers

As President and CEO of Strategic Partnerships, Inc., Mary Scott Nabers has decades of experience working in the public-private sector. A well-recognized expert in the P3 and government contracting fields, she is often asked to share her industry insights with top publications and through professional speaking engagements.