Significant growth in the number of UK students splitting degree courses between further education colleges and universities has been predicted as a result of the rising cost of tuition.
David Finegold, formerly senior vice-president for lifelong learning and strategic growth at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, said that this model did not have to be confined to local institutional partnerships and could potentially operate nationwide.
This is already happening in the US, where the American Honors programme allows those who study for two years at a relatively low-cost community college to transfer to a selected university to complete the final two years of a degree course.
Dr Finegold, who is now the chief academic officer of American Honors, told the annual conference of the Association of Colleges in Birmingham last week that he wanted to explore whether a similar system could operate in the UK.
Speaking to Times Higher Education at the event, Dr Finegold said that split degrees could be vital if the government aimed to further increase participation in higher education.
“There’s a model that I think worked well for getting that first third of the population to get a degree,” Dr Finegold said. “But to get to that next target of ‘how do we continue to expand it’, I think it’s going to need models that work better for adult learners and better for students who have different learning styles. This…approach really has a lot of potential traction.”
Dr Finegold argued that the model could appeal to students from poor backgrounds who might be unable or unwilling to undertake a conventional degree course with annual tuition fees of £9,000.
In the US, tuition fees for colleges in the American Honors programme vary by institution, but they average around $6,000 (£3,8) for home students, considerably cheaper than most universities. Studying at a community college also allows learners to live at home, and thus to save money, for longer.
The programme has made US universities more diverse, Dr Finegold said. “They want more racial and ethnic diversity; they want more first-generation students; and they know that a very high percentage of those begin their higher education careers in community colleges.”
After three years, American Honors now has 700 students enrolled at 10 college campuses. It has a target of 30,000 to 40,000 learners.
Although Dr Finegold acknowledged that the two-plus-two model might not transfer to the UK’s academic system, he suggested that a system of one year in college and two at university, or 18 months in both, might be workable.