COLUMBIA — Some higher education leaders in Missouri are seeking to make it easier for students to transfer to another school, reasoning that some college is better than none and that transfer students shouldn't be penalized by being forced to take duplicative classes to get their degrees.
A bill filed by state Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, calls for the creation of a "core transfer library" of at least 25 entry-level courses in English, math, science and other general education subjects that would be honored for credit at each of Missouri's public colleges and universities.
The bill also requires Missouri's Coordinating Board for Higher Education to adopt a statewide "reverse transfer" policy. That would let students at four-year schools receive associate degrees from community colleges once they've completed a two-year school's requirements — even if they fail to complete the more advanced degree requirements or have to put their college education on hold.
The lawmaker cited federal data showing that fewer than 46 percent of Missouri college students seeking bachelor's degrees earn their diplomas after six years of school. And just 38 percent of the state's workforce has a post-secondary degree — a number Gov. Jay Nixon has said needs to increase to 60 percent during the next decade.
"We need to make sure that the students entering as freshmen end up getting a degree, whether that's a two-year or four-year degree or beyond," Pearce said. "This is a nationwide problem."
Pearce, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said he was prompted to pursue the changes after attending a national meeting this fall in Austin, Texas, convened by Complete College America, a national nonprofit.
Tom Sugar, the group's senior vice president, said Missouri is among a group of 30 states participating in what he called "the college completion movement," an effort to hold public universities more responsible for their students' academic success.
"Higher education institutions have not been held accountable for this sort of thing ever before," said Sugar, a former chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh who also worked for Bayh when he was governor of Indiana.
"The longer it takes, the more life gets in the way," Sugar said. "Students are on the move. They lead complicated lives and often change institutions more than once. If their credits don't transfer with them, they're just adding more time to their efforts to compete college."
Rusty Monhollon, assistant commissioner for academic affairs at the state Department of Higher Education, called the initiative an "effort to remove to the greatest extent that we possibly can, all the obstacles and roadblocks that inhibit or prohibit students from completing their college degrees."
"If we can save a transfer student nine credit hours, that's $1,000 or more in tuition," said Monhollon, a former college professor. "That's something worth pursuing. It would have real benefits not only for individual students but for the state."
Pearce emphasized that individual schools will retain control over admission decisions.
"There are still standards to get in," he said. "This is not just turning a blind eye to the missions, interests and requirements of universities."
Plenty of schools in Missouri and elsewhere already have transfer policies, but a statewide standard would shift the emphasis toward serving students.
"The problem is not one of 'How well does transfer work for the institution?'" Monhollon said. "It works pretty well. It doesn't always work well for students."
The House version of the bill is sponsored by state Rep. Mike Thomson (R-Maryville). Both were filed on Dec. 1, the first day to submit proposed laws for consideration in the legislative session that begins next month.
The college transfer bill is SB455 and HB 1042.