Plan to aid community college transfers

Often, Kentucky community college students who move to four-year universities are frustrated to learn that upon transferring, some core degree requirements they had completed have changed.

The result: wasted credit hours and money, which negates the community college strategy of knocking out basic classes at a lower tuition rate before taking advanced classes at a larger university.

Lawmakers have long chastised college and university leaders for not working together to make it easier for students to transfer seamlessly. Now, a united front of higher-education leaders and lawmakers will push legislation to smooth out many of those bumps in the 2010 General Assembly, which begins Jan. 5.

"It requires that there be a clearly defined path from the community college through the four-year public universities so you don't lose credits," said Rep. Carl Rollins, D-Midway, who plans to file a first draft of that bill in advance of the session.

The proposal guarantees that students who pick a major soon after starting community college can finish an associate's degree that fulfills the required general-education classes at Kentucky's eight public universities, Rollins said.

Ideally, all that would await transfer students at a four-year university is 60 credits of upper-level courses needed to complete their major, he said.

Under the proposed bill, a four-year university must give the community colleges six months notice if its faculty members change the requirements for a particular degree.

"If there's any change in the learning outcomes, then everyone would have to come back together," said Michael B. McCall, president of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, one of many college leaders across the state who offered input to craft the bill.

It's impossible to track the number of students inconvenienced or thwarted by flaws in the current transfer system because many don't complain, and some might not finish pursuing their degrees, McCall said. But losing one student to bureaucratic impediments is too many, he added.

McCall told members of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce this week that the bill should help end the "maze of difficulties" for transfer students. "I'm as excited about that legislation as any legislation I've seen since 1997, before I was even here," he said.

William Hutcherson, a 2006 graduate of Nelson County High School, chose to enroll in Blue Grass Community and Technical College to nail down his core courses before transferring to UK this year to earn a degree in international relations.

Hutcherson said staying in regular contact with his community college advisors and UK's transfer advisor, Ray Archer, helped him avoid the frustrating fate of some of his peers, who got tripped up in a web of confusion over which credits transfer.

"I have heard cases like that, which made me more cautious," Hutcherson said.

The community colleges also have some improvements to make under terms of the legislation.

"Part of the frustration has been that ever since the community colleges were spun off from UK in 1997 ... there's been a certain degree of a lack of standardization within the course numbering and offering of KCTCS," said UK Provost Kumble Subbaswamy, who also participated in discussions to draft the bill.

In other words, a basic math class in Lexington might not cover the same skills and information as the corresponding course in Paducah.

The proposal, which requires streamlining measures to be in place by 2012, will give the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education more power to coordinate issues involving transfer students.

Robert L. King, the council's president, said the legislation will be key to making sure that more high school graduates take advantage of "this incredibly valuable and powerful resource" of community colleges.

Lawmakers say helping transfer students is key to achieving the state's goal of doubling the number of Kentuckians with college degrees by 2020.

Many have argued that routing more students through the community college system for core requirements would have multiple benefits. It eases the transition into college life, lowers the tuition bill for a bachelor's degree, helps alleviate scheduling logjams for core classes at the universities and allows university faculty to focus more on advanced courses in their fields.

That's why any legislation that helps improve the transition from community college to a university will garner bipartisan support, said Republican state Sen. Ken Winters, the Senate education committee chairman.

"I have every anticipation of being very supportive of something that promotes and fosters a cleaner or more seamless movement from one institution to another," he said.