By Bleah B. Patterson
Students should worry less about losing the concentration specification on diplomas and more about losing credit hours during the transfer process to a four-year university, Jo-Carol Fabianke, vice chancellor of academic success said.
Fabianke and Chancellor Bruce Leslie talked with the board of trustees at the Oct. 21 Student Success Committee meeting about the new transfer degrees that will apply to students who entered the Alamo Colleges this semester.
The decision to remove concentrations, or major specifications, from diplomas was made by the Presidents and Vice Chancellors Committee, or PVC, in April when degree plans in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 catalog were changed from Associate of Art or Associate of Science degrees with “concentrations,” to “advising guides.”
District administrators have faced backlash from the media, students and faculty already this semester as the process has progressed.
Students at Palo Alto College are planning to speak against transfer degrees at the citizens-to-be-heard segment of the Oct. 28 regular board meeting
PAC’s student leadership coalition led a rally last week in a college assembly and also gathered students two weeks ago for a protest to change the location of Tuesday’s meeting from Northeast Lakeview College to district headquarters at 201 W. Sheridan where the meetings are usually. The location was changed.
“This is our opportunity to clarify some things,” Fabianke said during the committee meeting.
“Student’s need to know that there’s a lot going on and also a lot of confusion,” she said. “And this isn’t something that’s happened all of a sudden, out of the blue. This has been a slow process that began three years ago.”
Fabianke said three years ago, the PVC approached department chairs asking them to evaluate the 18 hours required for specific majors after the 42 hours of mandatory core classes.
“We wanted to make sure those courses were going to transfer to primaries (universities). We started first with UTSA, Texas A&M-San Antonio and Texas State University,” Fabianke said.
Each of the college presidents and Fabianke met with UTSA and TAMUSA for nearly two and a half days each.
“They’re incredibly interested in aligning their requirements for majors with our 18 hours. They want our students and are excited about getting them so they want to solve the process,” she said.
According to Fabianke’s slideshow, available in the online ACCD Oct. 28 board agenda, students transferring to UTSA from one of the five Alamo Colleges with an Associate of Arts in English will only be able to transfer 12 of the 18 hours required above the core.
For the same student transferring to TAMU-SA none of the 18 hours will transfer.
Fabianke also compared psychology, biology, math and business administration, also known as general business, degrees and found similar results.
“When we asked the department leads to make this work, the feedback we received was that it’s virtually impossible to align the courses so that they would transfer to all three,” she said.
Fabianke said the new advising model that will be integrated fully by fall 2015 will ask students what their goals are and divide them into three categories: seeking a bachelor’s degree, seeking a teaching certificate and students who want to go into the workforce after two years.
“What students will come to understand is A.A. and A.S. degrees are really just stepping stones to a bachelor’s degrees used to transfer,” she said. “Student’s who don’t want to do that, the ones who really care about the concentrations being dropped, should get an Associate in Applied Science. That way they can work toward a certificate and enter the workforce immediately.”
Students who want to become teachers should get a teaching certificate, which will have the specific concentration listed on the certificate.
District 2 trustee Denver McClendon said before the presentation continued he wanted Fabianke to explain how faculty were involved.
“Faculty have been involved in this discussion for three years, and they, ultimately, made this decision and we’re just trying to figure out a best way to get to the goal they’ve set,” she said.
Mike Burton, English, reading and education chair, said he does not think degrees were a thought three-years ago.
“They talked to us, sure,” he said. “But we’ve always wanted to do our best to choose classes that would transfer. It had nothing to do with this (transfer degree).”
“By law, a four-year university must accept the 42-hour core,” Fabianke said. “But with the rest, universities often specify courses that fit into the same category as the courses we require, but a student will have to retake a similar course at that college anyway,” she said.
“What’s happened is those 18 ‘defined hours’ we set in place two years ago had to be chosen by faculty with no certainty they would transfer.”
“With these transfer degrees, a student chooses a transfer major that is tailored to a specific university,” she said.
“But that’s just unreasonable and confusing,” McClendon said. “If I were a student, you’d be expecting me to have my mind made up where I want to end up in three years, when I’m a freshman?”
Fabianke said no. “We’ll have them spend at least the first 30 hours working on the core and then they would meet with an adviser and start having the conversation about best options for transferring. By 42 hours, a student will be required to know so they can spend the last semester completing those 18 hours.”
However, students who wait until the last semester to take the required 18 hours may be required to stay longer to graduate because some courses require prerequisites.
For instance, a student pursuing a bachelor’s degree in speech may need COMM 2300, Media Literacy, at the transfer institution and for their A.A. degree, but they wouldn’t be able to take that course until they took COMM 1307, Intro To Mass Communications, which is also required in those 18 hours.
The student could not take both courses in the semester, and would have to stay an additional semester to finish.
“So you’re saying the probability of them being able to transfer with the system we currently use is minimal?” McClendon asked.
“I’m saying it’s impossible,” Fabianke said. “Our mantra right now is ‘making every course count,’ so we need to improve because that’s not happening right now.”
“What you’re forgetting though is that most students don’t know where they’re going to transfer to. They don’t even know what their options are. They’re going to apply to more than one university and see which one they get into. How do you account for that?” McClendon asked.
Leslie spoke up and said, “The reality is most students have a first choice. And that first choice is an option if they do well.”
He continued saying that losing hours is the consequence a student has to pay for not keeping their grade point average up and doing their best.
“They’ll have to face those consequences and transfer what they can to the school they do get accepted to,” Leslie said.
He said that part is unavoidable no matter what. “What we have to remember is that right now our finances are predicated on this. Ten percent of our budget comes from the government based completely on the amount of students who graduate. And we’re not the only people doing this. It’s a huge national push and we need to push with it.”
District 9 trustee James Rindfuss said there is something wrong with the system, “It’s wrong that this is even happening to begin with.”
Leslie and Fabianke agreed saying the real problem is prejudice towards community colleges from four-year universities. “Getting the universities to accept what we do, instead of giving us so many obstacles, is the key. This is a bigger issue than just us,” Leslie said.
“In a perfect world, I’d like a universal degree that’s good everywhere,” McClendon said.
Fabianke said that while UTSA and TAMU-SA are interested and excited about aligning courses for ACCD, Texas State has resisted.
“We spent a lot of time with the other two, but Texas State hasn’t updated their requirements since 2011, and we haven’t met with them,” she said.
“Once we get through this fall’s research, I believe those leadership will gather their faculty and support us,” Fabianke said.
District 8 trustee Clint Kingsbery said, “My biggest concern is how it’s been rolled out. We need to communicate better.”
He continued saying students and faculty just feel like they’ve been caught off guard because they haven’t been a part of the discussion since the beginning.
“Why didn’t we do forums at all of the colleges, go out and talk to people? If there had been those discussions, it wouldn’t be the big dilemma it’s become,” he said.
Fabianke never directly answered the question but District 6 trustee Gene Sprague said students don’t need to be outraged.
“They need to understand that the degree is a stepping stone. You can’t sell an A.A. or an A.S. It’s only use is to put toward a bachelor’s degree,” Sprague said.
“Sure, universities will like that you’ve gotten that degree, but other than that someone who just gets an A.A. or A.S. and tries to enter the work force is essentially in the same category as the drop out. And if you don’t like how that sounds, I’m sorry, but that’s the real world. The concentration is really just to make students feel better and carries no real value,” he said.
“Sure,” Kingsbery said. “But how can we make students understand that?”
Kingbery continued, insisting that students cannot be blamed for not understanding that when district officials have not given them the information.
“This all sounds good, but they don’t understand that,” he said.
The board of trustees will vote in Tuesday’s meeting on transfer degrees.
For the board agenda, log on to Alamo.edu and click on About us and then Board of Trustees.