There is a lot going on in higher education reform these days. For months, a legislatively created group called the Post-secondary Education Review Commission (PERC) met to review Louisiana’s existing policies and needs, all within the context of dwindling state budget dollars. The group released its recommendations a few weeks ago.
Shortly after PERC’s release, the Legislature’s Joint Education Committee met with higher education officials to receive updates on legislative mandates and other policy matters. Although the hearing occurred in the shadow of PERC, announcements made there were of equal import, especially for Louisiana’s college students. A big step was taken regarding the seamless transfer of college credits from one Louisiana institution to another, called articulation. By fall 2010, the state’s first standardized credit transfer system is expected to be in place.
This system would ensure that students who attend community colleges for two years and earn 60 credit hours (39 in general education and 21 additional credit hours) would have those hours directly transferred to any public four-year university they chose to attend. Students would be required to earn an associate degree and a minimum “C” grade in each class. Some majors, such as engineering and architecture, would likely require additional classes but, for most majors, students could meet all of their first and second year requirements at less expensive community colleges.
Presently, only three community colleges qualify to offer this joint admission program—Baton Rouge Community College, Delgado, and Bossier Parish Community College—but others are expected to gear up to participate. The program is being designed by faculty from both two- and four-year institutions, and part of their charge is to ensure standardized course quality between community and four-year colleges.
The new joint admission plan is an encouraging step in the right direction. For too many years, Louisiana’s lack of a meaningful articulation agreement has held students back, and our workforce has suffered for it. This initiative came about in response to legislation introduced in 2009 by Sen. Ben Nevers of Bogalusa, who has worked for years to get higher education officials to hammer out an articulation agreement that they could live with that would benefit students. Higher education officials often have a hard time acknowledging that courses offered at various institutions could be equivalent in rigor. Knowing that, Sen. Nevers “invited them to the table” in his bill. To their credit, the university representatives went to work and became part of the solution.
Kudos to all involved, because articulation needs to happen in Louisiana. It is key to fairness and opportunity for students and necessary for the future of our state’s finances (it is much less expensive to educate students at a two-year community college than a four-year university). Although a good start, articulation agreements shouldn’t stop with the joint admission program. Next, articulation amongst peer institutions needs to be addressed. Too many students have been shocked to learn that when they transferred from one university to another, even though both were fully accredited Louisiana public institutions, they lost a significant number of credit hours—sometimes two whole semesters. Surprises such as these shouldn’t occur. Higher education needs to be transparent; credit transfer information should be posted on every institution’s Web site.
Removing obstacles to post-secondary education is a high priority in the state right now. Opening doors instead of shutting them will lead to higher enrollments and better educated citizens, which ultimately will result in a ready workforce that is an economic development driver instead of an impediment.
(Dan Juneau is President of the Louisiana Association of Business & Industry (LABI). Brigitte Nieland, Vice President and Council Director for LABI’s Education Council, contributed to this column.)