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Roadblocks for 2-year college students

August 8, 2018

The price of a college education is not getting any cheaper, and it’s concerning that some regulations intended to keep down those costs aren’t working.

Many Texas students are finding that courses they have taken at community colleges are not recognized in their field of study when they transfer to four-year universities within the state. That lack of transferability carries a steep financial impact because they then have to retake a course requirement they thought they had fulfilled. This delays graduation and often increases their student debt.

The transfer problem facing thousands of students each year surfaced unexpectedly at a Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board meeting in Austin recently. The issue came up during the recognition of Alamo Colleges and other community colleges officials for their efforts creating transfer guides to facilitate their students’ moves to four-year universities.

Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes and board members were surprised to learn from Angela Guadian-Mendez, director of student completion for the Alamo Colleges, that the likelihood that a university would accept all the hours in a field of study taken at a community college were “slim to none.”

Paredes said he was startled and troubled. “We have laws in the state that are supposed to govern what institutions do about fields of study. Those laws have to be honored until they’re changed,” he said.

Core curriculum and field-of-study regulations are supposed to align community college courses with four-year universities. Accepting transfer hours only as electives does not help students earn their degrees any faster and sometimes contributes to students dropping out. It also hinders the 60x30TX state education goals of 60 percent of Texans ages 25 to 34 having earned a certificate or degree by 2030.

The state is also working hard to keep down student debt, and one of the primary goals of that effort is to reduce the excess semester credit hours a student accumulates on the path to a degree. Making transfer students retake classes is counterproductive in this regard.

Most recent state data available indicates that bachelor degree graduates in 2017 who transferred paid an estimated $45 million in tuition and fees due to excess hours. Overall, 47.2 percent of students earning bachelor degrees in 2017 had some student debt.

Higher education is challenging enough without more roadblocks. As a state, we are concentrating on getting more students to enroll in college straight from high school. In 2017, that figure was at 52.3 percent. For many students, their first college experience is on a community college campus, and their pathway to a degree will require a transfer to a four-year university.

Transfers from community colleges will play a vital role in helping the state reach its lofty 2030 goals in higher education.

College graduation rates are increasing, but statewide, the six-year college graduation rate is only 61 percent. That’s much better than in 2000 when it was 49 percent, but there is much room for improvement.

If Texas is going to gain a competitive edge in a global economy, it has to do a better job of ensuring that students who begin their college careers at a two-year community college are not at a major disadvantage when they transfer.

To do otherwise is not fair to the students, the faculty teaching the classes and the taxpayers who underwrite an increasingly larger portion of community college costs.

Field-of-study credits are, by law, supposed to be transferable. They don’t appear be. The Legislature needs to determine why.

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