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Education

Southern Utah University Might Just Have The Cheapest 4-Year Degree Program In The Country

A photo of a building on Southern Utah Univeristy's campus.
Wikimedia Commons
Southern Utah University newest online bachelor’s program is aimed at people with major life commitments or could not otherwise afford to attend a traditional four-year college.

Kathryn Bjorling had to leave college early. She finished two years, then headed off to Peru on her mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

She said she had always planned to finish her bachelor’s degree, but life happened.

“I had to have surgery and then I just decided to get a job until the fall,” Bjorling said. “And then COVID happened, so it didn’t really make too much sense to leave this really good job that I had to go back to school physically.”

She got an email about a new online program at Southern Utah University, where she had received her associate’s degree. The option — launched last fall — offered a bachelor’s degree in general studies, something she could complete while still working. At $75 a credit, the program was also a fraction of the cost of most traditional and online colleges.

Regular tuition and fees at SUU are about $6,000 per year, not including living expenses. Tuition at other four-year Utah public colleges ranges between $3,957 at Utah State University’s statewide schools to $8,628 at the University of Utah. The average tuition nationwide for a traditional public school is just under $10,000. Most online schools are about the same.

SUU’s general studies program, on the other hand, costs a little over $2,200 per year, which means students can complete a four-year degree for $9,000.

“We believe this is the least expensive bachelor's degree in the United States,” said SUU president Scott Wyatt. “We have not been able to find one less expensive offered by a public college or university.”

The school is able to keep costs low because of its limited course offerings and services, Wyatt said. Where a traditional degree might offer 30 or more class options per requirement, the general studies program has around one or two.

Classes are offered in seven-week increments — six per year — and pre-recorded, so students can attend on their own time. The program began as a pilot, targeting former SUU students who had not finished their degrees. It launched with 51 students. Wyatt said over 200 people have since been admitted, including students who have transferred from other four-year schools and some right out of high school.

He said the need for more flexible and cheaper options in higher education has been there for decades, but, until recently, schools have resisted change.

“What we're trying to do is not be tone deaf,” Wyatt said. ”There are just so many people that no matter how you look at it, they just can't afford it. And this is our attempt to say, to us and to the whole higher education industry, we can do better.”

The program is not for everyone, he said. A general studies degree won’t lead to jobs in specialized fields like medicine or engineering.

But it’s working so far for Bjorling, who said she’s taken classes in criminal justice, business and history while continuing to work at a tech startup in Pleasant Grove. It’s a broad curriculum, but one that she said will serve her well on her ultimate goal of getting her MBA and starting her own company.

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