Newswise — AUSTIN — The University of Texas System is now the largest state institution in America to offer free online college courses for high school students.
The System launched four courses this fall with a fifth on the way to provide high school students in Texas, the nation and throughout the world with opportunities to prepare themselves for college. Taught by faculty at The University of Texas at Arlington (UTA), The University of Texas at Austin and The University of Texas of the Permian Basin (UTPB), the courses — Intro to Engineering, Discover Pre-Calculus, Intro to Sociology, Solving Problems using Python and Human Geography — do not require any prerequisites.
“These courses will help prepare high school students, particularly Texans, for the rigors of a college education and beyond,” said Steven Mintz, Ph.D., executive director of the UT System’s Institute for Transformational Learning. “Some of these classes will also help prepare students for high-paying STEM careers.”
Additionally, some courses are designed to prepare students for the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests, should they seek college credits prior to matriculation. The UT System courses are available on edX — the massive open online course (MOOC) provider of which the UT System is a charter member. The courses will also be available soon on Modern States Education Alliance’s website, the nonprofit whose goal is to make college more affordable and accessible.
"We are proud to be partnering with the UT System to reduce the cost of college for students and their families," said Steven Klinsky, chairman of Modern States Education Alliance, whose contribution helped fund the creation of the courses. "No one should be shut out of college due to tuition costs or lack of access."
At UTA, the engineering course, which has a current enrollment of 28,000 students, is teaching students to use math to solve engineering problems and demystifies math. It also provides a broad background into the many engineering fields. The python programming course, with an enrollment of 11,000, provides an understanding of writing python code to solve problems.
“It’s evident that the success of engineering students is based on proper preparation in mathematics at an early stage,” said Pranesh Aswath, Ph.D., professor and associate dean of UTA’s College of Engineering. “Many high school students are not exposed to engineering as a discipline and are unsure of the opportunities available in the field. Both the intro engineering and python courses prepare high school students for engineering careers.”
Targeted at high school juniors and seniors, the engineering course is 13 weeks long, while the python course runs up to 10 weeks.
At UT Austin, the Discover Pre-Calculus: A Creative and Connected Approach course — with a current enrollment of 5,500 students — emphasizes areas such as exponential and logarithmic functions, sequences and series, trigonometry, algebra, geometry and many other functions.
“This 15-week course, developed through an edX grant, is presented in an inquiry-based learning format,” said Phillip Long, Ph.D., UT Austin’s associate vice provost for learning services. “This means that students are challenged to engage deeply with the topics of the course – which is ultimately about teaching the learner to become a better and more logical thinker with a rigorous and challenging curriculum.”
UT Austin is also in the process of adding a course on human geography.
At UTPB, more than 10,720 students are enrolled in the Intro to Sociology course, which is designed to provide general knowledge through critical thinking in sociology and prepare students for the CLEP exam.
“Although the 6-week course was meant to prepare students for the Introduction to Sociology CLEP exam, the course team and I went beyond that and offered a course that further addressed global issues and the wider international community’s needs,” said Joanna Hadjicostandi, Ph.D., the UTPB professor and Sociology Program coordinator, who received a grant from edX to develop and teach the course.
Beyond high school students, others who can benefit from the UT System online courses include veterans, college students seeking credits and the general public — since the courses are open to everyone.
If successful, Mintz said the UT System is hoping to expand the number of online courses targeted at high schoolers in the future.
About The University of Texas SystemEducating students, providing care for patients, conducting groundbreaking basic, applied and clinical research, and serving the needs of Texans and the nation for more than 130 years, The University of Texas System is one of the largest public university systems in the United States. With 14 institutions and an enrollment of more than 217,000, the UT System confers more than one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees, educates almost two-thirds of the state’s health care professionals annually and accounts for almost 70 percent of all research funds awarded to public institutions in Texas. The UT System has an annual operating budget of $16.9 billion (FY 2016) including $3 billion in sponsored programs funded by federal, state, local and private sources. With about 20,000 faculty – including Nobel laureates – and more than 70,000 health care professionals, researchers, student advisors and support staff, the UT System is one of the largest employers in the state.