Sam Houston State University has joined five other Texas universities in a pioneering educational initiative at The University Center in The Woodlands.

The multi-institutional endeavor, the first of its kind in Texas, is designed to provide the burgeoning population of suburban North Houston with convenient access to more than 40 bachelor's and master's degree programs.

The collaboration is being hailed by legislators as a model for the future of higher education in Texas.

"The University Center satisfies demands for high-quality higher education in densely populated areas, while at the same time, it does not carry with it the extremely high costs of setting up from scratch a whole new institution of higher education," explained Don Coers, SHSU's associate vice president for academic affairs and the coordinator of SHSU's University Center interests.

Through The University Center, students can obtain degrees from participating universities without ever setting foot on the institutions' main campuses. Freshman- and sophomore-level courses applying to the various degree plans are offered at one of four colleges in the North Harris Montgomery Community College District -- North Harris College, Kingwood College, Tomball College and Montgomery College. Advanced undergraduate and graduate courses are offered at NHMCCD's new University Center by the partner institutions -- SHSU, Texas A&M University, University of Houston, University of Houston-Downtown, Texas Southern University and Prairie View A&M University.

To avoid duplication of service, with few exceptions degrees offered at the teaching center are unique to each university.

Of the 45 degree programs initially offered, SHSU will offer 12. Those include seven bachelor's degrees -- applied arts and sciences, criminal justice, general business administration, geography, interdisciplinary academic studies in elementary certification, political science and psychology; and five master's degrees -- business administration, criminal justice, elementary education, secondary education and educational leadership.

"We are excited to be playing a leadership role in something as promising and as entirely new as this initiative," Coers said. "Our hope is, in the long run, the University Center will be a magnet, helping SHSU draw students who might otherwise be unable to attend the university.

The $10 million University Center facility is slated to open a bit behind schedule, sometime in October, on a 10-acre campus located adjacent to the Montgomery College campus on State Highway 242, just west of Interstate 45 in The Woodlands.

Though the building wasn't quite ready for the beginning of the center's inaugural semester, classes started on schedule in August in space provided by Montgomery College and NHMCCD's nearby Conroe Center. The University Center's charter class will move into the new facility when it is completed.

The three-story, 78,000-square-foot University Center building will feature the latest technological amenities facilitating distance learning. The building will house eight two-way interactive classrooms, eight interactive seminar and conference rooms, an open computer lab with 60 stations and 24 additional computer labs, classrooms and quiet study areas.

The University Center will serve as a hub for technology based systems that will interconnect all NHMCCD colleges with partner universities. The center's telecommunications infrastructure will support two-way interactive video, voice and data applications. These interactive systems will be employed for the delivery of instruction as well as for student support services such as financial assistance, academic advisement and learning resources.

The center reflects a trend toward making higher education opportunities accessible to non-traditional students.

"Lots of things have changed in higher education," Coers said. "There was a time when the residential college was the rule. Colleges were founded in locations chosen not necessarily for convenience, because it was assumed that students would go there and stay for the four years it took to earn a degree."

"What the University Center does," he continued, " is acknowledge that the notion of the residential college as the universal model has changed. We have many non-traditional students these days. Students who need to work their way through school or spouses of working people who may find it difficult to drive longer distances to complete a degree."

Besides expanding SHSU's educational presence in the North Houston area, the university's contact, through the center, with other partner universities, promises many collaborative benefits as participants share their respective educational, administrative and technological ingenuity.

"There has never been anything that has brought these institutions into such prolonged close contact with each other," Coers said. "We have been openly discussing each other's admission policies, transfer standards and educational programs. The benefits of this exchange are invaluable."

The technological orientation of the University Center, Coers said, will likely accelerate SHSU's plans to implement its own electronic classrooms and distance teaching programs.

"Exposure of faculty and administrators to the center's state-of-the-art computer and telecommunications equipment will have a beneficial fallout for SHSU," he said. "Although in many areas Sam Houston State has been a leader in adopting innovative technologies, the University Center, as an entirely new facility, will afford us all opportunities to work with a variety of systems."

SHSU maintains a full-time institutional representative at the University Center.

Anyone desiring more information on any of the 45 degree programs now offered at the University Center may call NHMCCD at (281) 591-3510 or access the University Center web site.

Media Contact: Phillip Rollfing

Aug. 27, 1997