Increase Vocational Education Opportunities at Community Colleges and Ensure Students Receive Full Course Credit

To develop the work force needed for the future, students pursuing vocational or technical training at a community or technical college should receive a tuition waiver, and community college students subsequently attending upper-level higher education inst itutions should receive proper course credit.


Background
More students entering Texas post-secondary education choose public junior and community colleges. Sixty-eight percent of freshman and sophomore students in Texas public higher education are in junior and community colleges. 1

There are numerous reasons why students choose community colleges. They are less expensive than a university and closer to students homes. Some students need the flexibility community colleges offer, since most students attend part-time. 2 Community colleges also tend to have more minority students (especially Hispanic students) than traditional universities. 3

There are 49 public community college districts in Texas, with 69 campuses. The colleges are local entities, governed by locally elected boards of trustees. Community colleges are required to get approval of their technical degree programs from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB). However, the colleges are not required to get THECB approval for their academic associate degrees, because undergraduate academic requirements are driven by four-year or upper-level universities.

About 45 percent of community college students are enrolled in technical and vocational programs, and the remaining students are enrolled in academic programs. Community college graduates of technical and vocational programs receive an associate of applied arts or sciences degree and are program specific. For example, a technical program graduate could get a degree in applied science welding. Students graduating in an academic program receive an associate of arts or sciences degree. Most of the students who attend community colleges and graduate with an ass ociate degree transfer their academic credit to traditional four-year or upper-level institutions. 4

Technical and Vocational Degree Programs
Part of the community colleges and technical schools mission is to support economic development by educating and training skilled occupational workers. Vocational and technical education provided through community and technical colleges is uniquely struc tured to respond to rapidly changing job markets, to adapt to new training techniques and to consider individual students needs. This type of education is likely to be an increasingly va luable resource for producing highly-trained graduates with marketable skills.

According to the National Center on Education and the Economy: Forty-two million people are employed in jobs in America that require a significant amount of training beyond a basic education, but not a four-year college degree. In this group fall traditional skilled workers the apprenticed trades, auto mechanics, secretaries, data workers, firefighters, electricians, plumbers and technicians. It was in these jobs that we found occupation-specific skills shortages most often mentioned. 5 This conclusion is supported by analysis done as part of the Comptroller s Forces of Change project .

The case for strong technical training is more compelling considering that almost half of the new manufacturing jobs in the state over the next 35 years will be in industries related to high technology, including computers, industrial machinery and electro nics. 6

Academic Degree Programs
Texas universities may admit community college transfer students at whatever class standing (freshman, sophomore, junior or senior) the university determines is appropriate, based on the student s academic experience at the community college. This discretion is appropriate in most circumstances since there are no standardized requirements for undergraduate academic degree programs in Texas. However, there are statewide standards for academic core courses. Section 61.051(g) of the Texas Education Code provides that the (Coordinating) Board shall develop and prom ulgate a basic core of general academic courses which shall be freely transferable among all public institutions of higher education in Texas which are members of recognized accrediting agencies on the same basis as if the work had been taken at the receiv ing institution. The board shall develop and implement policies to provide for the free transferability of lower division course credit among institutions of higher education.

Despite the existence of the core courses, there is no assurance that students transferring from community colleges or from one university to another may transfer all their academic credits. The Texas Performance Review recommended in its Breaking the Mold report, published in July 1991, that transferability be ensured.

THECB has begun to move to greater transferability, but the structure still does not require consistency in lower-level undergraduate work. There are insufficient standards in place to ensure that students who have completed the associate of arts or scienc es degree at a community college may transfer as juniors to upper-level or four-year institutions.

The burden falls on each student to demonstrate a sufficient level of achievement for acceptance or transfer to a university. The higher education systems in Texas are insufficiently structured to enable students to make a simple transfer.

California s and Florida s systems of higher education are better coordinated. Florida particularly has a well-defined state articulation agreement among institutions of higher edu cation. In Florida, a student who graduates with an associate degree from a community college is guaranteed admission into the state university system with junior standing. If the student has not completed the associate degree but wishes to transfer to the state university system, the student may apply for admission to the system, and if accepted, is guaranteed that the university will not require any additional general educational instruction. 7

Florida can provide these guarantees because the state has a common numbering system for undergraduate academic courses. When the Florida articulation agreement was established about 30 years ago, a faculty task force determined appropriate course content for undergraduate, lower-level, academic courses. Regardle ss of whether the course is offered in community colleges or universities, the student is guaranteed the opportunity to learn a standardized, statewide curriculum.

In Florida, this agreement has yielded significant savings to the state, since many stud ents choose to start their higher education instruction at community colleges. Each full-time equivalent student (FTE) in the state university system in Florida costs the state approximately $10,000 per year. An FTE in the community college system in Flori da costs the state approximately $4,000 per year. 8


Recommendations
A. Effective in fiscal 1996, students pursuing vocational or technical training at a community or technical college should receive a tuition waiver.

This program would enable students to continue their high school vocational or technical training in community colleges and obtain marketable skills, thereby contributing to the economic development of their communities.

The state would provide the costs of tuition to the community colleges through a formula that would be administered by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB). The formula should be based upon enrollment of students in the technical and voca tional degree granting programs in community and technical schools and historical trends in tuition costs.

Community and technical colleges would receive additional state funding for those students on a technical or vocational degree track only. During the period leading up to the implementation of this new approach, the Legislature should direct the THECB to develop the appropriate formula.

B. Community college students admitted to a four-year or upper-level higher education institution should receive proper course credit.

The Texas Select Committee on Higher Educatio n took the first steps to reach this goal by recommending that THECB should help to develop a common course numbering system for all lower-division courses offered by public institutions. Further, the Select Committee recommended that core courses should b e similarly recognized by community colleges and universities as equally applicable toward a baccalaureate degree. THECB should be encouraged to move toward these goals, using the Florida articulation system as a model.

THECB, in cooperation with repres entatives from community colleges and universities, should develop an articulation agreement, to be effective in the next biennium. The agreement would establish standardized core and curricular requirements for community colleges and universities, and wou ld ensure that lower-level post-secondary students are guaranteed the opportunity to learn a standardized statewide curriculum, regardless of where they begin their academic education.


Implications
Community college academic and technical programs woul d be strengthened if both recommendations were adopted. Since most community college students are on academic tracks and are likely to apply for transfer to a four-year or upper-level institution, a standardized lower-level (freshman and sophomore) academi c curriculum would ease the transition for both students and institutions. Additionally, the state is likely to benefit by enabling an increasing number of students to graduate from a four-year college or university. Finally, state funds are likely to be s aved as increasing numbers of students continue to choose to begin their academic instruction at community colleges rather than four-year or upper-level institutions.

Granting tuition waivers for students in community college technical degree programs is likely to reduce the number of students who end their academic training with a high school degree. Those students are likely to consider one or two more years in free t echnical training at a community college a viable option for advancement. Further, the graduation rates in these technical programs are likely to increase.

On the academic side, staff at Texas four-year and upper-level higher education institutions are likely to be concerned that students transferring from a community college or another four-year institution will not be as prepared for upper-level courses as students who have been in the same four-year institution for the duration of their undergraduate program. This concern can easily be addressed, however, by adopting Florida s practice o f establishing common course numbers and ensuring that regardless of the institution providing the course, the course content is standard and transferable.


Fiscal Impact
General revenue would be used to pay tuition for students in community or technical college technical degree programs. Cost is estimated below based on community college and Texas State Technical College academic year 1991 tuition with an assumed 5 percent increase in enrollment each year. (Since approximately 45 percent of community college students are enrolled in the technical degree programs, 45 percent of the total community college tuition revenues are included in the fiscal estimate that follows.)

The savings to the state associated with students choosing to begin their academic training at community colleges as opposed to four-year institutions cannot be adequately estimated here, but this policy change should result in general revenue savings with in the next five years.

Fiscal Increased Cost to Change
Year General Revenue in FTEs

1994 $ 0 0
1995 0 0
1996 (77,000,000) 0
1997 (80,000,000) 0
1998 (84,000,000) 0




Endnotes
1 Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and LAR submissions, September 11, 1992.
2 Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board Memorandum, Fall 1991 Data on Community College Student Data (Austin, Texas, December 11, 1992).
3 Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, 1991 Statistical Report (Austin, Texas, January 1992).
4 Telephone interview with Stanton Calvert, Executive Director, Texas Public Community/Junior College Association (Austin, Texas, December 11, 1992).
5 America s Choice: High Skills or Low Wages!, National Commission on Education and the Economy (Washington, D.C., June 1990).
6 Comptroller of Public Accounts, The Changing Face of Texas (Austin, Texas, August 1992), p. 5.
7 Telephone interview with Fred Atherton, Educational Policy Director, Florida State Board of Community Colleges (Tallahassee, Florida, December 11, 1992).
8 Ibid.