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To improve transfer throughout the state and reduce time to degree, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board is creating degree pathways and a new digital portal for course mapping.

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Seven in 10 college students within Texas complete at least one college course at a public two-year college, but fewer than 60 percent of community college students who successfully transfer to a four-year institution will graduate within four years.

Texas Direct was launched in 2021 as the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s (THECB) solution to improve the transfer experience between two-year and four-year institutions among the state. The 60-credit pathways help reduce credit loss and improve time to completion for students who participate.

Currently, the THECB is developing plans for an additional eight fields of study and preparing to launch an online transfer–mapping platform to help students more easily understand what courses they need to complete a degree.

What’s the need: Many community colleges hold articulation agreements with four-year institutions, but each agreement is unique, with over 2,000 agreements in effect among Texas colleges and universities; each institution has between one to 400 agreements, according to THECB.

Senate Bill 25, passed during the 86th Texas legislative session in 2019, created provisions to improve transfer in Texas, including providing a recommended course sequence and reporting on nontransferable credit.

Often, transfer conversations between community colleges and four-year institutions can be tense, as each party feels strongly about which credits should transfer into different degree programs, explains Texas wducation commissioner Harrison Keller. “Transfer has been a complicated and contentious issue in Texas for a lot of years.”

One of the outcomes of Senate Bill 25 was Texas Direct—curriculum mapping led by the Texas Transfer Advisory Committee, made up of 24 faculty and administrators from public colleges and universities across the state, and discipline-specific subcommittees.

THECB saw a need to bring all parties together to discuss possible solutions and also to guide conversations with data to understand the student perspective and experience, Keller says.

How it works: Each pathway, called the field of study curricula (FOSC), consists of three groups of lower-division courses which create a 60-unit block:

  • Discipline-relevant Texas Core Curriculum courses (42 credits)
  • Discipline Foundation Courses (up to 12 credits)
  • Directed Electives (at least 6 credits)

While the first two categories are standardized across colleges, four-year institutions get to select which courses fulfill the Directed Electives requirements based on their academic program.

If a student completes the entire FOSC and transfers to a public four-year institution within Texas, all courses transfer and apply to the students’ selected major and replace all lower-division courses.

If a student doesn’t complete the block, each course will transfer and apply to the degree program individually.

The discipline subcommittees, made up of faculty experts, look across institutions to identify courses that can fulfill requirements for core curriculum, while also applying to a degree program upon transfer to guide students in their decision-making.

The transfer advisory committee initially created eight transfer maps based on data on most common transfer paths for students and where students experienced significant credit loss as well as workforce needs:

  • Business administration
  • Criminal justice
  • History (BS)
  • Nursing
  • Political science
  • Psychology
  • Social work
  • Sociology

Scaling up: After establishing the initial eight FOSC, the advisory committee has identified an additional seven fields of study:

  • Biology 
  • Exercise Science 
  • Education
  • English
  • Communications
  • Computer and Information Sciences
  • Engineering

The History pathway will also be expanded to include a BA option in addition to the BS.

The education FOSC is closest to completion, with expected release in the next few weeks and the communications FOSC to follow shortly in the next few months, Keller says.

One of the challenges the committee is navigating right now is some majors don’t have enough lower-division course requirements to fill 60 credits, so some state-level changes will help in lowering the minimum core hours a student must fulfill. This will help expedite transfer and reduce the burden on students to take courses that are less relevant to their pathways, Keller says.

Funding Student Success

Besides Texas Direct, the Texas Higher Ed Coordinating Board offers students intending to transfer grants based on their GPA and financial aid status. The Texas Transfers Grants Pilot Program launched in 2022 and qualifying students were entered into a lottery to select award winners. The grant can be applied at any participating Texas public four-year institution upon successful transfer.

What’s next: THECB is also considering how to create pathways for students who may be unsure of their exact major but have some idea of the field they are interested in, similar to a meta-major. For example, a student may not be confident in identifying chemistry as their major but wants to pursue some kind of STEM degree.

These themed pathways are still in conversation, but the board sees a need to better support undeclared students in their transfer pursuits. 

Another big change coming later this year is online course mapping for all students at public institutions in Texas on the My Texas Future website called Map My Path. The tool, launching this fall, will provide students with a one-stop advising platform, pulling from data already available to THECB from Senate Bill 25.

In Map My Path, students can enter the courses they’ve taken so far and sort by programs at all participating institutions (so far all the publics, with some private universities in Texas in conversations) to see where their credits will apply for fastest degree completion.

In addition to helping transfer students identify the program and institution that matches their needs, Map My Path can also benefit adult learners who have some college but no credential return to college and finish, Keller says.

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