Ohio House Approves Criteria to Ease College Transfers, Grant Associate Degrees

 

The Ohio House passed a bill to make transferring colleges easier, but not without first adding more details on the criteria for doing so.

Substitute House Bill 9 also adds provisions for determining if students who have left school without a bachelor’s degree are eligible for an associate’s degree or job training certificate.

The vote was 95-0 on the bi-partisan bill sponsored by State Reps. Don Jones (R-95) and Bride Rose Sweeney (D-14).

“We worked extensively with the higher education community,” Rep. Jones said. “We’re extremely happy with the bill.”

Originally, the bill required state universities to comply with new standards for general education courses and grant credit for any of those courses completed at another university.

During committee hearings, Jack Hershey, president and CEO of the Ohio Association of Community Colleges, testified that the Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE) already has a tool to help with transfers.

Through the Ohio Transfer Module (OTM), he said “students know they can complete specified general education courses anywhere in the public system by assuring that the set of learning outcomes are the same.” But he said the credit transfer process is confusing and daunting to many students. “They aren’t familiar enough with the requirements or where to turn if a college or university denies their credit or simply accepts their credit without having it count toward their degree.”

The final version of the bill addresses those concerns.

It now requires the Chancellor of Higher Education to develop an electronic equivalency management tool to assist in the transfer of coursework and degrees. The tool also must help minimize inconsistent judgment about the application of transfer credits and assist in allowing transfer credits to be applied in the same manner at each institution. Similarly, the tool must include the universal documentation of course and program equivalencies statewide. Lastly, the tool must be incorporated into a website.

Further, if the university refuses to accept or grant credit for any general education coursework completed by the student at another state college or university, it must inform the Chancellor. It must also provide the Department of Higher Education’s contact information to the student so the issue can be resolved.

Another provision of the original bill was to require an audit every two years to identify students who have not been enrolled for four or more semesters and who have not completed their bachelor’s degree. Once the students are identified, the universities must see if the courses they took meet the requirements for an associate’s degree. If so, they must inform the student.

Unlike currently, this bill “puts the duty on the institution to notify the student that they are eligible for, or close to attaining, their associate’s degree,” Rep. Sweeney said.

The substitute bill added two criteria: the student has a 2.0 or higher grade point average on a 4.0 scale, and the student completed at least 45 credit hours.

The last modification was to clarify under what conditions costs and fees for certain “final” classes required for graduation had to be waived. The criteria are:

  • The student was enrolled full-time in the student’s final year;
  • The student was unable to enroll in the final course in the student’s final year due to a lack of course availability or other circumstances beyond the student’s control;
  • The student paid all tuition and general fees and did not receive a refund for the courses in which the student enrolled in the student’s final year at the beginning of that year;
  • The student registers for the final course in the next academic year in which the course is offered;
  • The student did not enroll in the maximum amount of credit hours in the student’s final year.

State universities may incur “potentially significant costs” to conduct the 2-year audits, a fiscal analysis of the bill prepared by the Ohio Legislative Service Commission says.

The analysis references Project Win-Win, which identified students who were either eligible for an associate’s degree or stopped their education when they were very close to earning the degree. It then assisted those students in completing the courses and credits needed to qualify for the degree. Seven Ohio university regional campuses and community colleges participated in the program.

A 2013 evaluation of Project Win-Win by the Institute for Higher Education Policy found:

“By far, the degree audit was the most difficult and time-consuming Win-Win task in determining . . . whether students . . . should be awarded an associate’s degree, or, if not, whether they were “potential completers” with a relatively small number of credits left to earn an associate degree. There are various software programs available to automate the degree audit process, but, to maintain academic integrity, “nearly all institutions that employed these tools supplemented their findings with hand-and-eye readings; 11 schools used nothing but hand and eye.”

The fiscal analysis also says there may be an increase in administrative costs for state institutions and the ODHE due to the reporting requirements of the bill.

Sub. H.B. 9 now goes to the Ohio Senate for its consideration.

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Maggie Leigh Thurber is a writer for The Ohio Star. Email tips to maggie.leigh.ohio@gmail.com.
Background Photo “Ohio House Floor” by Joshua Rothaas. CC BY 2.0.

 

 

 

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