GRAND FORKS -- The University of North Dakota wants to add a flat-rate subscription option to its tuition model.

Think of it as Netflix or Hulu – popular television subscription services – but for a UND education. Students could pay a flat rate and take as many (or as few) online courses as preferred, so long as they aren’t considered a full-time, degree-seeking student.

“You enroll, you have a subscription and during that subscription, you can binge watch,” said Jeff Holm, vice provost for online education and strategic planning at UND.

The idea, proposed to the State Board of Higher Education’s budget and finance committee last week, is still in the approval process and may require some tweaks to university system policies. UND hopes to implement the model sometime in the coming months.

The model is meant to serve students who might be looking to get a leg up in the workforce or to complete a certificate of some sort.

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UND says it wants to “provide competency-based, online education that provides ‘micro-pathways’ or smaller targeted units of learning to individuals as a way to enhance their skill set and knowledge for advancing in the labor market or reskilling for a new employment opportunity.”

“We would like to tie this into being able to provide students what they need at different points in their life,” Holm said, noting that for some students, it might mean full-time, on-campus attendance but for others, the subscription model might be preferred.

During Tuesday’s SBHE meeting, board members and university system leaders said they think the model is an exciting way to help educate people in the state.

“It's an innovative model,” said Tim Mihalick, who chairs the board’s Budget and Finance Committee. “It’s something that makes some sense as we look for ways to add additional education to the population at large.”

The university is proposing a flat rate of $4,950 for a year, rather than part-time students paying by the class or credit hour. The proposed subscription rate is for part-time online students only and is intended to provide educational pathways to those who are unemployed, underemployed or at risk for unemployment, UND says.

According to the proposal, the subscription would reduce the cost, on average, for students by $715. UND says there is little financial implication to the university. It anticipates a maximum of 100 students a year pursuing this option.

UND officials say COVID-19 highlighted the need for transformation in higher education delivery models.

“This moment of crisis provides an opportunity for individuals to pursue new educational and career goals that meet North Dakota’s workforce needs and ensure their future financial security,” the university wrote in a proposal outline presented at the meeting.

The concept is new for the North Dakota University System, but it has been used across the country in similar ways. According to UND, subscription tuition models are an effective component of a comprehensive response to the challenges COVID-19 has imposed on higher education because of the flexibility and competency-based approach they provide students.

“As the largest public provider of online education in an eight-state region with a robust Office of Extended Learning and home to the Center for Innovation, UND is aptly suited to respond to the economic and education disruption related to COVID-19 by providing continued access to educational pathways for degree completion, workforce training, and career re-tooling for all North Dakotans,” the document said.

The request was tabled Tuesday for further discussion at the committee’s June meeting.