By Nick Johnson

Gov. Steve Beshear signed a bill into law last week that will make it easier for students at Kentucky’s community colleges to transfer their credits to the state’s four-year universities.The law, which is scheduled to take effect during the 2012-13 academic year, is designed to simplify the general education requirements across all state universities and community colleges, offering students a clearer roadmap for students to transfer to other state schools and still retain credits they’ve already earned.

The measure passed through both chambers of the state legislature unanimously.

“This law will create a clear, defined path for students,” said Rep. Carl Rollins (D-Midway), the bill’s original sponsor. “Students will be able to transfer from a Kentucky community college to a state four-year institution without losing credit.”

The law will attempt to align general education requirements between the KCTCS system and the four-year institutions. It also will require KCTCS schools to create a uniform course numbering system.

“Students should be able to transfer from any Kentucky community college to a public university without the added cost of losing a lot of course credit,” Rollins said. “A clearly defined path to a degree–no matter what public institution a student transfers to–is necessary to increase the number of [residents holding bachelor’s degrees] in our state.”

Rollins also pointed out that the new law could save transfer students money because they can pay lower community college rates to fulfill their general education requirements and then transfer to a four-year institution to finish their degrees.

After passing through the House, the bill was altered slightly in the state senate. A senate committee adjusted a provision in the bill that would have required Kentucky’s four-year institutions to limit associate degrees to 60 credit hours and limit bachelor’s degrees to 120 hours. The committee replaced that requirement with language that “encouraged” the universities to impose these limits.

“I can live with that portion of the bill,” Rollins said. “The important thing is that we must save students and family money and time, and that we do everything to help students earn their degree in four years.”

The Kentucky Community and Technical College System, which includes 16 state community colleges, comprises some 68 campuses throughout Kentucky. During the past year, enrollment at Kentucky community colleges increased by 18 percent and now includes more than 100,000 students.

Officials at Eastern said they’ve been expecting the changes and working with state officials to get Eastern’s course requirements in line.

Lisa Cox, director of Eastern’s Student Outreach and Transfer Services office, said many departments have already begun bringing down their course loads to 120 hours to complete a bachelor’s degree, and many other majors on campus are gearing to make similar reductions.

Cox, who serves on a statewide committee of representatives of Kentucky’s universities that has been working to ease the process for transfer students, said the committee had outlined a plan similar to the new law.

She said the goal was to help students avoid taking courses that later on, once they transfer to a four-year institution, wouldn’t apply toward their bachelor’s

degree.

“We are concerned with the overall experience of students that transfer to Eastern,” Cox said. “Students should have a clear and defined path to transfer credits to a state institution. In the past, the transition has not always been crystal clear.