A new state law will help students make better decisions and have access to more information when transferring between institutions, according to an executive from a higher education non-profit and an enrollment official at this campus.
The Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 25 as a response to the growing problem, and costs, of non-transferable credits between community colleges and universities. According to Texas Legislature Online, the law was signed into effect by Gov. Greg Abbott on June 14 after being passed through the House and Senate.
“If you look holistically at the picture, if you look at resources invested by students and families and resources invested by the state, we’re really looking at closer to $120 million a year [spent on lost transfer credits],” said Melissa Henderson, deputy director for policy at Educate Texas, a Dallas-based foundation that works to better higher education. “It’s a significant issue, so as we think about college affordability, that we’re not just thinking about tuition and fees, but if you’re taking courses that ultimately don’t count towards your degree then the overall cost of your degree is driven up.”
The bill requires universities to post a list of non-transferable credits to their institution and to provide recommended courses for particular majors on March 1 every year.
Lawmakers also discussed the universal curriculum that all students must complete for the first 42 credit hours of their degree. The efficiency and application of these course lists were called into question by lawmakers after seeing the vast diversity of higher education institutions in Texas.
“I think Senate Bill 25 is really trying to move in the direction of giving students better tools, better information, better guidance so that they may better navigate the complex ecosystem.” Henderson said. “The more guidance and more and more clarity that we’re able to give to our students, the more we are enabling and empowering them to make informed decisions about the courses they’re going to take.”
Texas has seen a steady growth in community college enrollment rates, with the state average across districts at 0.9%, according to the Texas Association of Community Colleges. Alamo Colleges District, the primary source of transfer students for A&M-San Antonio has seen a 1.9% growth from 2017 to 2018.
“Historically our campus has been 100% transfer until the last couple of years in 2016 when we began to take freshman students,” said Brandy McLelland, vice president of Enrollment Management at A&M-San Antonio. About two-thirds of our incoming undergraduate students are transfer students.”
Texas A&M-San Antonio receives a majority of its transfer students from the Alamo Colleges District with whom it has a partnership with that helps streamline transferring between the two institutions.
“At Alamo Colleges, once I told them what I was interested in, prior to even enrolling at Texas A&M, they did a really good job about putting me on the right degree plan and making sure those classes transferred over,” said business administration junior, Tabitha Wells.
Enrollment officials here at this campus believe that Senate Bill 25 will help students understand their options better while maintaining consistency between institutions.
“What [Senate Bill 25] will do for us is that it will really help students make better decisions toward their degree,” McLelland said. “We’re working as a campus to make sure that we’re working to make all those degree plans clearly defined, so students can follow them all the way up from high school, if they’re taking early community college credits, through community colleges, to their four-year partner.”
The bill has also made provisions for a commission to convene and discuss the topic of universal curriculum before the start of the next legislative session in 2020 to discuss the possibility of implementing meta-majors within the higher education curriculum. Educators and lawmakers are using this concept to create a more nuanced path for college students.
According to the Texas Higher Education Board, Meta-Majors will make the transfer process more transparent by creating guided paths for students as they’re moving through their college careers. It creates a recommended set and sequence of classes that’s universal for all four-year universities. Each meta-major is made specific for each major area of study.
“What we also know from research is that there can be what is sometimes called a ‘toxic combination of courses’,” Henderson said. “By developing not just the list of courses for that major but the sequencing as well, we’re giving students more information on what courses are required and in what order.”