Lawmakers Probe “Wasted” Credits

Among perennial issues facing higher education policy makers is the low rate of successful student transfer. A new working group of senators has been created to examine the dilemma of why so many courses completed at a community college are not accepted for meaningful credit at universities.

You can read about it here in a Texas Tribune article by Matthew Watkins. The piece cites research by the Greater Texas Foundation. Please read the entire article.

Note this passage from the Tribune, which includes a link to the GTF study :

The problem is vexing for state lawmakers, who say they receive calls year after year from angry students and parents. An estimated two-fifths of Texas students lose all of their credits when they transfer schools, according to one advocacy group. That helps add up to about $60 million in wasted tuition payments in the state each year.

When you examine the GTF document, the explanatory narrative states, “Among students who transfer, 39% lose all of their credits, 28% transfer some credits, and only 33% are successful in transferring all of their credits.”

That first number seems really high, considering all the presumed reforms over the years with the core curriculum, articulation agreements, and “guided pathways.” But there are probably many ways to slice the data, and we all know students who sign up for courses they find interesting, especially in the liberal arts, fine arts, and humanities, without thinking much about transferability to a particular university. Many of us did it, too, back in the day. Asking teenagers about long range goals may not be terribly productive, especially if they come from backgrounds offering little consistent experience with career planning for a profession.

The Tribune article says that community colleges should engage students better in the advising process, but most dissatisfaction seems to be with universities. If you are the chair of, say, the economics department at a university, you want students to take all the courses your fine department has to offer. The stance is perfectly natural, even commendable.

The piece also reports that some university personnel are concerned about the rigor of transfer introductory courses. Many high school students complete dual credit classes from a community college and transfer to a university without attending classes on a college campus at all. The article doesn’t mention dual credit, but it’s something to ponder, especially with the program’s prodigious growth in recent years.

There is obviously room for improvement with transfers, but it’s the nature of community colleges to be close to home and less expensive. Shifting to a university by students may entail a change in residency, bringing in a host of economic and family factors, not to mention the higher tuition.

It would be interesting to find out whether rates of successful transfer correlate with geographic proximity. On the other hand, students who commute may be those most at risk of dropping out, as they may have full-time jobs and family responsibilities. Individuals who “go off” and matriculate at a university far away from home may come from families with higher incomes and educational levels to begin with, and hence are more likely to succeed.

Untangling all the variables will be difficult.