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By W. Gardner Selby December 15, 2017

Greg Abbott scores a compromise on Texas colleges accepting community college course credits

When he was running for Texas governor, Greg Abbott spelled out a pile of proposals including his vow to make it easier for students starting in a community college to transfer course credits toward a degree at a four-year college.

Specifically, Abbott called for requiring Texas public colleges and universities to give transfer students credit for taking freshman- and sophomore-level core courses at community and junior colleges. He said he'd exempt from the mandate four-year institutions designated as research or emerging research universities by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Abbott further said: "Allowing credits to transfer more freely enables aspiring students to take advantage of junior and community college cost savings. All courses that satisfy core curriculum requirements should be more transferable between junior and community colleges as well as public four-year institutions." His proposal also called for institutions of higher education to adopt a core curriculum based on a single common course numbering system adopted by the coordinating board--as unsuccessfully proposed in the 2013 regular session.

Checking progress on the Abbott-O-Meter

We've just looked into signs of progress on this promise, finding that while legislation requiring certain students to plan for success at a four-year institution passed into law in 2015, lawmakers on Abbott's watch didn't approve his desired directive.

Abbott himself didn't respond to our request for comment about progress on this promise. But separately, officials with the Texas Association of Community Colleges, a nonprofit that includes the 50 community college districts in the state, talked us through legislative moves that took place on Abbott's watch.

A 2015 law

By phone, Jacob Fraire, the association's president and CEO, called an adopted 2015 proposal, Senate Bill 1189 by Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, consistent with Abbott's "desire and intention to improve the transferability of credit."

That measure, which Abbott signed into law in June 2015, required the governing board of each public junior college district to establish at each junior college in the district a multidisciplinary studies associate degree program, according to a state summary. The law requires any student completing 30 or more semester credit hours in the program to meet with an academic adviser to make a plan "that accounts for all remaining credit hours required to complete the degree program," the summary says, and it says there should be an emphasis on "the student's transition to a four-year college or university" plus "preparations for the student's intended field of study or major at the four-year college or university."

We didn't spot language in the legislation telling four-year colleges to accept credits earned toward the multidisciplinary degree. But the association's Dustin Meador advised us that the 2015 law requires students pursuing the multidisciplinary degree to complete the state's 42-hour core curriculum--and under pre-existing law, Meador said, a student who completes all the core courses may automatically swap in her or his credits at any Texas public college. Proponents of Seliger's legislation, Meador wrote, "might argue that the bill created a clear path for a student to complete the core with the expectation that the courses will transfer."

On the other hand, Meador said, if a student falls short of completing the 42 hours, a receiving institution may pick and choose which credits to accept toward a four-year degree--and the student might be required to take more core courses.

Unsuccessful 2017 legislation

In 2017, TACC told us, Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, offered SB 2086 and SB 2122, each intended to ease credit transfers. Neither made it into law.

SB 2086, which cleared the Senate before dying in the House, arose from senators focusing on credit transfer issues, according to West's May 2017 statement of intent. The proposal would have required the coordinating board to establish regional consortia easing credit transfers from community colleges to four-year institutions within each region. "Through these consortia," West wrote, "institutions will create transfer compacts to identify which courses will be accepted for transfer among all the institutions, and include those in student transfer guides."

West said in his statement of intent for SB 1122, which perished after winning Senate approval and drawing a House committee hearing, that the legislation would drive down the number of community-college courses taken by students that don't deliver credits toward a college degree. West wrote: "While students bear responsibility for the choices they make, higher education bears responsibility for making the choices transparent, easily comprehensible, and to align courses with common curriculum and outcomes as much as possible."

Under the proposal, West summed up, the coordinating board would be directed to "create a database of required lower-division courses for specific majors" and to strengthen advising and require earlier advising, among reforms.

Given the degree put in motion by the 2015 Legislature, we newly rate this previously unrated Abbott promise a COMPROMISE.

Compromise  — Promises will earn this rating when they accomplish substantially less than the original statement but when there is still a significant accomplishment that is consistent with the goal of the original promise.

Our Sources

Report, "Greg Abbott's Educating Texans Plan: Higher Education," Greg Abbott campaign, Oct. 28, 2013

Phone interview and email, Jacob Fraire, president/CEO, Texas Association of Community Colleges, Dec. 11-12, 2017

Document, "Transfer Bills, 84th and 85th Legislatures," TACC, undated (received by email, Jacob Fraire, Dec. 12, 2017)

Report, "Bill Analysis, Senate Bill 1189," 2015 regular session, Texas Legislature, House Research Organization, May 21, 2015

Legislation, Senate Bill 1189 (and bill summary and actions), 2015 regular legislative session, Texas Legislature Online (accessed Dec. 12, 2017)

Legislation, SB 2086 (and actions), SB 1122 (and actions), 2017 regular session, Texas Legislature Online (accessed Dec. 12, 2017)

Emails, Dustin Meador, director of government relations, Texas Association of Community Colleges, Dec. 12, 2017

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