- Associated Press - Sunday, July 3, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - New statewide requirements for similar basic courses at Missouri public colleges and universities will help ensure students who switch schools get credit for completed classes, education officials say.

The law, which takes effect Aug. 28, especially could help students enrolled at community colleges, said bill sponsor Rep. Travis Fitzwater, a Holts Summit Republican.

“We want you to get your education, we want to encourage you to get your education and we don’t want to put roadblocks in front of you,” Fitzwater said.

All community colleges and universities must implement the policy, which requires them to adopt similar lower-level curricula of 42 credit hours, starting in fall 2018.

Leaders at the state’s top community college and four-year university associations said most schools already have agreed to a similar program, but it is voluntary. According to the Higher Education Department, 12 four-year institutions and 13 community colleges have signed on to a transfer agreement.

The Columbia campus is the only University of Missouri System school that doesn’t participate but has programs in place to help transfer students.

“Transfer as a whole works well in Missouri in most cases, but there can be instances where a student struggles or a particular class isn’t accepted,” said Jon Bauer, president of East Central College and chairman of a leadership council at the Missouri Community College Association.

He said the value of the legislation is in giving students confidence that general education classes will be transferrable across the board.

“This smooths the waters,” he said.

Putting the force of law behind a statewide transfer policy means institutions can’t opt out, according to Rusty Monhollon, assistant commissioner for academic affairs at the Higher Education Department.

Fitzwater said the goal also is to cut costs, both for students who won’t have to pay to retake classes and taxpayers who fund a two-year community college scholarship for qualifying students who might then transfer to four-year schools.

It’s up to the Coordinating Board of Higher Education to outline a recommended curriculum with the help of faculty from public schools by January 2018. The basic courses must cover math, life and physical sciences, humanities and fine arts, and social and behavioral sciences. Students who transfer might need to take additional lower-level classes outside of the 42-credit-hour curriculum depending on individual schools’ degree requirements.

Colleges and universities still could deny credits but would need to notify students. Students can dispute that, and it will be up to the state’s higher education commissioner to make a final decision as to whether students should receive transfer credits.

Private schools won’t be impacted by the measure, but eight previously signed on to a similar agreement through the state Higher Education Department.

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