IDEA Public Schools to offer new hybrid program for nontraditional students

McALLEN — A new method of college completion will be offered to IDEA Public Schools graduates starting this fall in an effort to help those who got sidetracked on their way toward a degree.

“We are excited to announce this third way of completing college, where we are taking the best of brick and mortar and the best of the online platform and putting it together in this hybrid space,” said Phillip Garza, IDEA Public Schools chief college and diversity officer.

This hybrid method, called IDEA-U, consists of college online courses through College for America — a workforce partnership division of Southern New Hampshire University — and a requirement of 13 hours of in-person meetings at the IDEA headquarters in Weslaco where students will meet to receive mentoring and complete homework and other assignments.

Starting June 30, students who have graduated from any IDEA school and have not completed an associate or bachelor’s degree, can apply to be part of the first cohort of IDEA-U, which will launch in August. The goal is to admit about 50 students to the initial cohort.

“There is going to be an application process,” Garza said. “It is mostly to make sure that this is a good fit and that we are going to be able to deliver in the completion process.”

Students who have already completed some college will be able transfer up to 60 hours to this program, which has an unlimited number of credit hours that can be completed in one semester.

The program will begin offering an associate degree of arts in general studies with concentrations in health care or business; a bachelor’s of arts with concentration in public administration, insurance services, logistics and operations, or business; and a bachelor’s degree in healthcare management in communication or healthcare management with global perspectives.

These degrees were chosen according to workforce demand in the region, Garza explained. The degrees will cost about $5,500 per year with no additional fees and students can qualify for Pell Grants or scholarship opportunities to cover some or all of the cost.

While IDEA’s goal is to help each and every student get to and through college, Garza said they realized that attending a traditional college full time might not be possible for every student and the online option alone might also not provide the support necessary to help them succeed.

Out of the 2,514 students who have graduated from college after attending IDEA schools, 2,511 registered for college right after high school graduation, he said.

But even as IDEA’s highest college completion rate has hit the 48th percentile — compared to a about 10 percent completion rate for low income students across the nation — Garza said that other 52 percent is of high concern.

“We know that college can be rigorous. We know that maybe brick and mortar might not always be the right fit, even though that’s what we are going to push our seniors to,” Garza said. “So IDEA-U really stands to be what we are calling a new third way of completing college.”

The plan for this new program could be for it to one day become its own entity associated with IDEA Public Schools and grow its cohort each year. But for now, the focus is to make sure that only those for whom traditional college isn’t an option access this new resource.

“We are worried that this could really blossom and we are hopeful it will,” Garza said. “I would love to have 100 kids every year (at IDEA-U) … yet I don’t want to create the conditions for our kids to drop out of college and go to IDEA-U. I want to create the conditions where kids stay in the college they selected their senior year.”