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Colleges would be required to be more transparent about transfer rules under new bill from U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro

The open lab area at San Jacinto College’s Central Campus in Pasadena on Aug. 25, 2014.
Michael Stravato
The Texas Tribune
The open lab area at San Jacinto College’s Central Campus in Pasadena on Aug. 25, 2014.

Colleges and universities would have to be more forthcoming about their student transfer requirements under a new measure put before Congress on Wednesday by U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro.

The goal, Castro says, is to help students wishing to transfer schools from losing college credit they have already earned.

Castro’s measure, the Transparency for Transfer Students Act, would require two- and four-year schools to post financial aid information and transfer deadlines on their websites, as well as a list of all the schools from which a student’s credits are guaranteed to be accepted.

The federal Higher Education Act of 1965 says schools shall disclose their credit-transfer policies, including the list of institutions with which they have transfer agreements, also known as articulation agreements. But the current law fails to require that this information be posted on a college or university website.

“Community college is an affordable, accessible way for many students to start their education — but at too many schools, complicated transfer policies make it harder for transfer students to earn a four-year degree,” Castro said in a statement. “The Transparency for Transfer Students Act will provide students with better information on college articulation agreements, preventing credit loss and helping students save valuable time and money as they pursue their degrees.”

Nationally, only 30% of community college students transfer to four-year universities to continue their studies, and on average, those students lose 40% of their credits, forcing them to spend more time and money to repeat courses. This also increases the chance that students might not complete their degrees.

In Texas, 67% of students who transferred from community college during junior year ended up completing their bachelor’s degrees, compared with 86% of their classmates who started at a four-year university and remained there, according to a 2021 Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board report. That same report also found it took transfer students on average 7.5 years to complete their bachelor’s degrees, while students who started at a university and finished took 5.3 years to complete their bachelor’s degrees.

According to another 2021 state report, 25% of transfer students enrolled in fall 2020 had at least one course rejected by the public four-year university to which they transferred. Common reasons include that the course was not within the degree requirements or the student didn’t earn a high enough grade.

Castro’s bill would also amend the Higher Education Act to specify that schools must present this information online in an “easy to find” and “readable” manner.

“The formal documents that spell out which credits earned at one institution will convey in another often contain legal jargon to hold partners accountable instead of making it easy for students to understand,” Alexis Torres, press secretary for Castro, said in an email. “Additionally, because schools don’t have to specifically post this information on their website, students may have to spend additional time searching for this information.”

For years, federal officials have recommended such a requirement. A 2017 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office suggested that the U.S. Department of Education require schools to provide information about articulation agreements and transfer resources online. According to the report, about 68% of public schools nationally list that information on their websites. The report estimates that about 54% of private nonprofit universities and 47% of for-profit schools list such information on their websites.

According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, all Texas colleges and universities have pages on their websites dedicated to transfer students, but the level of information varies by school. According to the board’s 2021 report, 29 out of 37 public universities in the state list online requirements for how many credits a student must take at that university to graduate. Only 28 universities list online their limits for how many transfer credits they accept.

Community college leaders in Texas say more information is always better.

“Time is the enemy of degree completion for many students,” Mike Flores, chancellor of the Alamo Colleges District in San Antonio, said in a statement. “Our approach at the Alamo Colleges to use comprehensive Transfer Advising Guides (TAGs) coupled with the connection to a certified academic advisor not only saves our students time, but allows them to be job-ready when they graduate from one of the Alamo Colleges or to transfer to a university.”

In 2019, the state passed a law to help smooth out the transfer process between two- and four-year schools. Part of that law requires schools to report to the state which credits they do not accept from other schools. Before the law’s passage, the state did not keep data on which credits students lose when they transfer.

Kate McGee covers higher education for The Texas Tribune. She joins after nearly a decade as a reporter at public radio stations across the country. She most recently covered higher ed at WBEZ in Chicago, but started on the education beat in 2013 at KUT in Austin. She has also worked at NPR affiliates in Washington D.C., New York City and Reno, Nevada. Kate was born in New York City and primarily raised in New Jersey. She graduated from Fordham University. Her work has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here and Now, and The Takeaway.