An electronic consortium of small colleges across Texas recently won permission to offer a joint physics degree. Together, the eight participating schools, whose physics programs were facing shutdown because of low enrollment two years ago, will now make up the second biggest physics program in the state.
As APS News previously reported, in 2011 the Texas Higher Education College Board decided to shut down programs at public colleges that graduated fewer than five students a year on average. Several of the schools with physics programs that didn't meet the requirements joined a small network of universities that together taught classes through online streaming.
After a lengthy application process, the THECB officially signed off on the expanded Texas Physics Consortium in July, authorizing it to start awarding bachelor's degrees.
"We have plenty of schools," said Dan Marble, a professor at Tarleton State University who helped set up the online consortium. "That pretty much killed the issue of [the THECB] ever coming back on us."
Students attending seven schools across the state will receive a degree from the consortium, rather than their individual schools. An eighth member of the network, Texas A&M University-Commerce, will also share teaching responsibilities, but it was never in danger of losing its degree program.
All together, the program will likely average about 20 to 25 physics graduates a year, more than any single university in the state other than the University of Texas at Austin. Marble said also it's likely that the consortium will expand again in a year or two to incorporate the University of Texas at San Antonio.
The last step is to get the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the accrediting agency of the state, to sign off. Marble has sent in the application, and expects them to approve the program.
"It feels great," Marble said. He added that for him the next step is to start coordinating with the registrars at the different universities to get the program up and running. "Now comes all the hard work."
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Staff Science Writer: Michael Lucibella