A bill that would overhaul Texas' college credit transfer system is on its way to Gov. Greg Abbott's desk.
Senate Bill 25 seeks to help students avoid losing course credits when they transfer from community colleges to four-year colleges and universities. Both houses of the Legislature approved the bill last week.
During a Friday news conference, Sen. Royce West, the bill's Senate sponsor, said the bill is designed to help college students and parents, as well as the state, avoid wasting money on courses that students take at the community college level but that don't end up counting toward their majors.
Citing data from the Texas Coordinating Board for Higher Education, West, a Democrat from Dallas, said that in the 2017 fiscal year, students and parents wasted $45 million on course credits that would be lost when the students transferred. During the same fiscal year, the state wasted $15 million on those courses, he said.
"I don't believe that's an aberration," West said. "That's probably what's been occurring over the years."
The bill reorganizes lower-division courses that many students take at community colleges, making it easier for them to predict how they will transfer to four-year schools and how they'll apply to their degree programs once they get there.
It also requires students to file degree plans earlier in their academic careers than state law currently requires. Most college students would be required to file degree plans after completing 30 credit hours. Current law puts that threshold at 45 credit hours. High school students enrolled in dual-credit courses would be required to file degree plans after completing 15 hours, rather than 30 hours, as dictated by current state law.
The bill also requires colleges and universities to report what courses they don't accept for transfer to the Texas Coordinating Board for Higher Education. West said those reports will give the coordinating board and lawmakers a better idea of where the credit transfer system works and where it doesn't.
Rep. Chris Turner, the bill's House sponsor, called the bill "the key piece of higher education legislation this session." A Democrat from Arlington, Turner said the degree plan requirements will help advisers work with students earlier to make sure they aren't taking courses that won't apply to their majors.
The state has seen huge growth in the number of high school students taking dual-enrollment courses since Gov. Rick Perry signed House Bill 5 in 2013. Since that bill was passed, it's become more common for students to graduate from high school with as many as 20 or 30 college credit hours they earned through dual-enrollment courses, Turner said. Requiring those students to file degree plans and connecting them with advisers help ensure they don't spend time and money earning college credits that won't do them any good when they graduate from high school, he said.
Ultimately, helping students avoid taking unnecessary classes and losing course credits during transfer means lowering the cost of a degree, said Raymund Paredes, Texas' higher education commissioner. By better aligning course offerings at community colleges with those at four-year schools and improving advising, the state can make sure students graduate with "manageable debt, not crushing debt," he said.
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Texas relies more heavily than most states on its community college system to get undergraduate students through to graduation. Nearly three-quarters of all Texas students who graduate with a bachelor's degree have some community college credit on their transcripts, according to the Texas Association of Community Colleges.
The number of students choosing to complete some of their degree requirements at community colleges is likely to grow, Paredes said, meaning the state needs to do a better job of ensuring its two-year and four-year schools are working together to give students a clear path to graduation.
James Milliken, chancellor of the University of Texas System, agreed. As the state's population continues to grow and a college degree becomes a requirement to enter more and more industries, the state's higher education system will need to find ways to serve a growing number of students. Better partnerships among the state's community colleges and four-year colleges and universities will continue to be important, he said.
"This is an incredibly important step for Texas," he said. "The University of Texas System embraces it completely."