STATE NEEDS TO IMPROVE COLLEGE CREDIT TRANSFER, SAY EXPERTS
(AUSTIN) — Too many students trying to transfer from community colleges to four-year universities can't apply class credits towards their degree, according to testimony offered before the Senate Higher Education Committee on Wednesday. The committee is charged with examining the issue of transferability during the interim, and representatives of the higher education community appeared before the panel to identify problems and offer solutions. With more students choosing to begin their post-secondary education at a community college, the importance of streamlining credit transfers is also growing, said committee Chair and Amarillo Senator Kel Seliger. "We want that work to count," he said. "We don't want to waste students' time and we certainly don't want to waste money, particularly for those young people that can least afford it."
More university students in Texas start at a community college than any other state, 73 percent according to Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board Commissioner Dr. Raymond Paredes. 34 percent of all graduating baccalaureates have at least 30 credit hours earned at a two-year institution. They also perform about as well as those students that begin at four-year institutions, with 56 percent of community college transfer students achieving a four-year degree. The Coordinating Board estimates that students spend almost $60 million each year in courses they've already taken at community college or they don't need for their degree.
Lack of uniformity between institutions is one of the biggest problems with respect to credit transfers, Paredes told members. "We have universities that have thirty-thousand students, forty-thousand students, in one case over sixty-thousand students, that have hundreds of majors, hundreds of courses, hundreds of ways to meet the standards of core curriculum," he said. Universities a few miles apart might have significant differences in course degree requirements and standards for transfer credits. College curricula change constantly, said Paredes, and the task of ensuring credit transferability would take a staff of three to five full time employees at each institution continuously monitoring transfer policies. Additionally, it will require on-going collaboration among high schools, community colleges and four-year institutions to ensure a consistent, streamlined credit transfer system.
One way to improve the system, according to Greater Texas Foundation President and CEO Sue McMillin, is to strengthen what are called transfer pathways: coherent, transparent and widely-accepted course curricula that lead from enrollment at a community college to completion a 4-year degree. This is already happening in some areas, she said, highlighting the El Paso region, where the local community college system has partnered with the University of Texas at El Paso to have clear and consistent standards for what courses will transfer from the 2-year to the 4-year university.
Additionally, students need better advisors, said McMillin. "Students are often derailed about the lack of clarity about where to transfer, confusing or conflicting information and setbacks that discourage them from following through on their plans," she said. A well-informed, engaged advisor can make it much easier for students to move from community college to a four-year university.
Last session, the Senate approved a bill intended to increase course alignment and transparency in the transfer process, but it died in the House. "We've got to work with our colleagues to figure out what the problem was in order to make certain we address this for taxpayers, students and parents in Texas," said Dallas Senator Royce West, who sponsored the 2017 measure.