SB 497, an important bill with lasting effects, passed both chambers prior to adjournment of the Regular Session and has been sent to the governor. The new statute will place a cap on the number of semester hours required for an associates degree. A veto is highly unlikely.
The measure was sponsored by Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), who chairs the Committee on Higher Education. From the official analysis of the bill:
S.B. 497 amends the Education Code to prohibit a student from being required by an institution of higher education, in order to earn an associate degree, to complete more than the minimum number of semester credit hours required for the degree by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools or its successor unless the institution determines that there is a compelling academic reason for requiring completion of additional semester credit hours for the degree. The bill exempts from this prohibition an associate degree awarded by an institution to a student enrolled in the institution before the 2015 fall semester and specifies that the exemption does not prohibit the institution from reducing the number of semester credit hours the student must complete to receive the degree. The bill authorizes the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to review one or more of an institution's associate degree programs to ensure compliance with the bill's provisions.
Under the heading of Background and Purpose, the analysis also provides the reasoning behind the bill:
Recently enacted legislation placed a cap on the minimum number of semester credit hours a general academic teaching institution may require for a bachelor's degree offered by the institution. However, interested parties have raised concerns regarding the absence of such a cap on the minimum number of semester credit hours required for an associate degree. S.B. 497 seeks to address this concern by establishing such a cap.
In other words, in contending with their own statutory caps, universities complained about the mandatory acceptance of many courses from community colleges.
From a previous post when the bill was first considered during the 2013 Regular Session:
Any likely impact will depend upon the institution and major. One might surmise that smaller schools would feel a reduction in required courses more acutely. Presumably students would still be allowed to take courses beyond the associate degree, but successful transfer would depend upon the receiving institution. Many courses now transfer as elective credit only, often to the disappointment of students. Articulation agreements have helped enormously, but policy makers are not yet satisfied.
As pointed out in a post on October 29, 2012, when this issue first arose, the measure results from a Coordinating Board recommendation that includes a specific limit of 60 semester hours in most cases.
Here is the language included in the Coordinating Board proposal, presented at its quarterly meeting on October 25:
In 2005, the 79th Texas Legislature enacted a statute that placed a limit on the number of semester credit hours (SCH) that public universities may require for any baccalaureate degree it offers. The statute (Texas Education Code 61.0515) states that a student must not be required to complete more than the minimum number of SCH required for a baccalaureate degree by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools or its successor. The effective limit for most baccalaureate degree programs is now 120 SCH.
The 2005 amendment did not address limitations on SCH for Associate’s degrees. The THECB recommends capping the SCH required for Associate’s degrees to no more than that required of the appropriate accrediting agency or professional licensure requirement in an effort to improve time to degree. The effective limit for most Associate’s degrees would be 60 semester credit hours under this provision. This recommendation was also a recommendation in the Cost Efficiencies in Higher Education report submitted to the Governor in 2010.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools also cites a 60-hour limit. From its Principles of Accreditation (see page 19):
The institution offers one or more degree programs based on at least 60 semester credit hours or the equivalent at the associate level; at least 120 semester credit hours or the equivalent at the baccalaureate level; or at least 30 semester credit hours or the equivalent at the post-baccalaureate, graduate, or professional level. If an institution uses a unit other than semester credit hours, it provides an explanation for the equivalency. The institution also provides a justification for all degrees that include fewer than the required number of semester credit hours or its equivalent unit.