PolitiFact: College credit promise becomes a compromise

12:00 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017 Texas News & Politics
Nick Wagner
Greg Abbott’s campaign promise: Require some public colleges to accept credits earned at community colleges.

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 explained: “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.

With Abbott now running for re-election, we decided to look for signs of progress on this promise, putting it to the PolitiFact Texas Abbott-O-Meter tally of campaign promises.

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.

Jacob Fraire, the association’s president and CEO, called an adopted 2015 proposal, Senate Bill 1189 by state 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 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.

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

Given the degree put in motion by the 2015 Legislature, we rate this Abbott promise a Compromise.