Texas Legislature may lower number of credit hours required for an associate degree

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In January, UT and Austin Community College announced a partnership that would allow students who transfer from ACC to the University to earn an associate degree from their previous institution. 

Now, Texas lawmakers are considering legislation that would lower the number of credit hours necessary to receive an associate degree after students transfer. Currently, many students transfer from community colleges to universities without earning an associate degree.

State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo and Senate Higher Education Committee chairman, filed the Senate version of the bill and said he wants students who attend community college to receive the credentials they have earned, even if students earned that credential elsewhere.

“They’ve earned it. They’ve earned enough credits,” Seliger said. “They’ve moved on from the community college, which is a good thing, but we want them to make sure that they enjoy the full benefit of having attended community college so they get their associate’s degree after 60 hours.” 

Seliger’s bill would require universities to notify community colleges when transfer students earn 60 credit hours so colleges may award students associate degrees. Currently, students must earn 90 credit hours to be eligible.

A companion bill filed by Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, would require universities to notify community colleges when transfer students earn 66 credit hours.

In 2011, state higher education institutions awarded 104,817 bachelor’s degrees, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. That year, state institutions awarded 52,813 associate degrees.

“This isn’t necessarily a problem for students who get a [degree] from a four-year college, but transfer students are often left holding no credential if they drop out, even after earning 60 credits, sometimes many more,” Guillen told the Texas House Higher Education Committee on Wednesday.

Guillen said students who transfer without obtaining associate degrees detract from community colleges’ graduation rates, which his bill seeks to partially remedy.

Increasing the number of associate degrees awarded has been one of the state’s higher education priorities for more than a decade. 

In 2000, the state enacted a plan to increase the annual number of associate degrees awarded to 55,000 by 2015. Community colleges exculsively awarded 52,089 associate degrees in 2011, according to the coordinating board.

John Fitzpatrick, executive director of Educate Texas, a nonprofit organization that seeks to improve K-12 education and college readiness, said enacting Guillen’s bill would help encourage students to earn associate degrees.

“We’re putting the power in the hands of the students … and it’s really the responsibility of both the community college and the four-year institution to ensure that the students get this credential,” Fitzpatrick said.

Published on March 1, 2013 as "Associate degrees may take less time".