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House panel OKs college transfer bill

FRANKFORT — A bill that would make it easier for community college students to transfer to a public, four-year university is headed to the full House for a vote, possibly as soon as Friday.

The House Education Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved House Bill 160, which would develop a clear pathway for students in the state's junior college system to obtain a four-year degree.

The bill's sponsor, Democratic Rep. Carl Rollins of Midway, said too many students are not getting credit for classes they took at the junior college level when they transfer to four-year colleges.

"I wanted to see a system where they don't have to run up big debts just to get a four-year degree," said Rollins, who chairs the House Education Committee.

Under the bill, the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, which has 16 colleges and 67 campuses, would have to streamline its general education requirements and align them with bachelor's degree programs at the state's universities.

In turn, universities must accept the general education course work — basic English, arts, math and science classes — that students complete at community colleges.

In addition, all public bachelor's degrees would be limited to 120 credit hours and associate degrees would be limited to 60 credit hours, starting in the 2012-2013 academic year. Specialized degrees that may require additional credit hours would have to get a waiver from the state Council on Postsecondary Education.

The bill also would establish a common transcript for all public universities and colleges.

The state's junior college curriculum was aligned with the four-year universities after a higher education reform bill passed in 1997. However, the system later changed course requirements, making it difficult for students to transfer from junior to four-year colleges, Rollins said.

Michael McCall, president of KCTCS, said the bill would make it easier for his students — which number about 100,000 — to finish their four-year degrees on time. The community college system's enrollment this fall was up 12 percent compared to last year and has doubled since 1998.

Some members of the committee expressed concern that the bill may shortchange students because the amount of credit hours for a bachelor's degree would be decreased from 128 hours to 120 hours. Some faculty also may be concerned that streamlining efforts will limit their ability to change coursework.

Robert King, the president of the Council on Postsecondary Education, said many universities across the country are cutting back on the number of required classes for bachelor's degrees. Over time, universities and faculties have added credit hours for degree requirements that may not be necessary for that field of study, he said.

King said the CPE, however, would have final say on how many hours would be required for a degree if there are concerns — particularly in areas where there are standardized board tests, such as for nursing and engineering.

The bill also would require universities to notify the CPE if they make changes to their bachelor's degree requirements so the junior college system could make similar changes to its curriculum, King said.

While some universities have expressed concerns about provisions in the measure, Rollins said those issues should not derail passage of the bill.

Although there are no firm numbers, King said it is likely the bill would save students both time and money because they will not have to retake classes and it will be more likely that they can graduate in four years. The measure would also help the state reach its goal of doubling the number of Kentuckians with college degrees by 2020.