In what many see as the most ambitious collaborative initiative in the San Antonio-Austin area’s higher education sector, 15 community colleges and universities from the region signed off on an agreement to coordinate transfers for students and iron out costly barriers in the process.

“The work of the Texas Transfer Pathways Compact will create an evidence-based regional guided pathways model that provides an integrated, institution-wide approach to student success from 9th (grade) through the baccalaureate degree,” Alamo Colleges Board Chair Yvonne Katz explained to approximately 40 college and university officials.

The compact would expand on the Alamo Colleges’ recent efforts to decrease the number of credits students accumulate that don’t contribute to their degree, either because of changes in their majors or because credits don’t transfer to university programs. Rather than leaving students to navigate the complexities of major requirements and course loads on their own, Alamo Colleges has invested in initiatives to better guide students in their academic goals. San Antonio College, which also signed the agreement, is also building better student guidance infrastructure with its new welcome center and community outreach and advisory programs.

By coordinating its academic programming with the credit requirements of Austin Community College and universities in the region, Alamo Colleges hopes to “make sure that students who are coming first to us … have a clear pathway to a baccalaureate,” said Alamo Colleges Chancellor Bruce Leslie.

“Unfortunately, for too many years we’ve looked at ourselves and created our own degrees, our own majors,” Leslie said in a speech to the university partners. “And we’re now acknowledging that wasn’t always best because often the requirements we would set for students weren’t (the universities’) requirements.”

Unclear career pathways and losing credits in transfers are problems that have historically plagued students in Texas colleges and cost both students and taxpayers millions of dollars in educational costs, Katz said.

“The total cost to Texas students and taxpayers of excess credit hour accrual is $490 million, almost a half-billion annually,” Katz explained, “along with the loss of talent for the employers and students who don’t achieve a degree.”

Katz cited a Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board study that claimed students who took at least 30 credit hours at community colleges in Texas “were able to transfer 83% of the hours, but only 70% were applied to agree.” She added that, on average, “Texas community college students take 92 hours to finish a 60-hour degree.”

Alamo Colleges Chair Yvonne Katz (D7) speaks to community college and university representatives. Photo courtesy of Alamo Colleges.
Alamo Colleges Chair Yvonne Katz (D7) speaks to community college and university representatives. Photo courtesy of Alamo Colleges.

In addition to wasting money, the time lost through these inefficiencies often lead community college students, who disproportionately face poverty-related challenges, to drop out before attaining a degree. According to Leslie, as many as 300,000 people in Bexar County have some college education but no degree. By streamlining credit transfers, Leslie hopes to bring some of those former students back, while reducing the number added to their ranks.

Leslie emphasized the importance of increasing advising services provided to students and bringing university representatives onto community college campuses.

“When a student says ‘I want to go to this university,’ we want your staff to come meet with those students and help them connect to your university,” Leslie said.

Referencing employer demands for marketable skills, Leslie also discussed coordinating stackable credentials, which allow students to gain certifications and associate degrees that carry real economic value and contribute to their bachelor’s degrees. Currently, such programs are limited, meaning students often have to choose between the short-term need of feeding their families and their longer-term, four-year university ambitions.

“That’s pretty complex stuff,” Leslie told the Rivard Report in an interview. “And with the curriculum changing all the time now, with all the changes going on in our world today, we need to be doing a much better job of talking to each other.”

Beyond spreading the word about their programs, Leslie said he hopes the compact will also lead to increased outreach to local school districts, helping high schools better align their programs with an “agreed-upon set of pathways for each of the majors” provided across the 15 higher education programs.

Top Image: Alamo Colleges Chancellor Bruce Leslie signs off poster symbolizing Transfer Pathways Compact. Photo courtesy of Alamo Colleges. 

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Daniel Kleifgen graduated from Cornell University with a bachelor’s degree in English and philosophy. A native of Pittsburgh, Pa., he came to San Antonio in 2013 as a Teach For America corps member.