Editor's Note: This story originally stated that CNM was opposed to the bills. However, CNM has reached to the Daily Lobo to inform us of a recent amendment to the bill that now how the college in favor of the legislation. This story has been changed to reflect that information. 

The credit transfer process at UNM may see a drastic change with two proposed bills that would make it much simpler.

It’s no secret that students have experienced issues when transferring to UNM from other universities and colleges around the state and nationwide, with many seniors anticipating graduation only to learn they have ended up taking more classes than required.

According to a report from Complete College America, a national nonprofit aimed at increasing the completion of career certificates and college degrees, New Mexico college students are taking 154 credit hours on average, when only 120 are required for graduation.

Consequently, students are taking two years longer to complete a bachelor’s degree program, wrapping up their studies in six years instead of four.

Barbara Damron, the cabinet secretary for the New Mexico Higher Education Department, said the present process is significantly inefficient in part because of how often students transfer.

According to a report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, the national rate of students transferring even once within six years of their college career is around 37 percent.

“Courses often transfer, but they end up not counting toward a student’s degree,” Damron said. “The reforms in SB103/HB108 will create a system that will allow students to know, before they take a course at any of New Mexico’s public higher education institutions, whether that course will transfer and count toward their degree, preventing loss of time, credits and money.”

If passed, HB108 and SB103 — which are duplicate bills with bipartisan sponsors — would enable the New Mexico Higher Education Department to create a common course numbering system, produce and cultivate meta-majors, and alter the general education core.

Damron said NMHED is aligning roughly 10,000 lower division courses spanning across 31 public higher education institutions, all with the same common course number.

“This is a feat no other state in the Union has accomplished, and which the New Mexico higher education community was asked to do 22 years ago,” Damron said. “This means that when a student transfers, the course will be accepted as equivalent at the student’s next higher education institution.”

The bills would also alter the general education core curriculum, dropping the current required 35 credit hours to 30, with the exception of associate degrees in applied science, which require 15 credit hours.

The New Mexico Independent Community Colleges organization advocates for nine community colleges in the state and has come out strongly in favor of both bills.

NMICC sees the potential of these bills to “effectively improve” conditions for the state’s college students by ensuring they are on a path to on-time graduation and taking courses relevant to their degree program.

The fiscal impact report for each bill also includes responses by institutions and colleges who would be impacted by the legislation.

Central New Mexico Community College, a member of NMICC, at first said the drop-in credit hour requirements could potentially harm community colleges and their approach in offering associates degrees.

But after discussions between CNM and the HED, the college is now in full support of the legislation after an amendment to the bill, according to officials. 

Damron said these bills were composed in conjunction with community colleges at their insistence, and will actually make it easier for students to bridge their education from community college to an institution.

“For years, community colleges have lamented the fact that their students transferred to four-year institutions and the students’ courses do not count at the four-year institutions,” Damron said. “The changes in these bills will increase the number of courses that can transfer from a community college to a four-year institution.”

If the bills are passed, the new numbering system and general education requirements must be implemented into the student information system. For UNM, that means BANNER, utilized by every member of campus, will also have some changes.

“We have been working with university and community college registrars and IT to develop a timeline that is reasonable given current resources,” Damron said. “These groups have also assured us that while having the same version of BANNER at all institutions would be ideal, it is not necessary to implement the changes required by SB103/HB103.”

A fiscal impact report from August 2016 signals that by cutting credit hour graduation requirements of 50 programs down to 120 credits, the University estimates each graduating class will save $10.3 million to $16.4 million.

“These bills allow the student to graduate with lower debt levels because of improving efficiency among our higher education institutions and decreasing the number of lost credits per student,” Damron said. “By helping students get quality degrees in the normal time frame, these bills help students get into the workforce more quickly, thereby costing them less money to go to college.”

Acting UNM President Chaouki Abdallah spoke in favor of changes to the process.

Abdallah is a member of the New Mexico Council of University Presidents, which has publicly stated its support for both bills. He said the software at degrees.unm.edu will make the articulation process compliant and natural.

“The Articulation and Transfer bills will simplify and clarify the paths for students if they move between different higher education institutions in New Mexico,” Abdallah said. “If students have clear maps to follow, they will lose fewer credits if they move between institutions.”

Kyle Biederwolf, president of the Associated Students of UNM, said he also supports both pieces of legislation.

“I know that, a lot of times, transferring schools creates confusion with which classes will count toward a student’s degree,” Biederwolf said. “This change will help transfer students to know which requirements they have completed, so that they can stay on track to graduate.”

Equivalent courses must be determined by August, but the common course numbering system will not be implemented into course catalogues and University documents until fall 2018.

Meta-majors will also be complete in the fall of this year, and general education reforms will be completed and established by fall 2019.

As of Wednesday, SB103 has successfully moved through two Senate committees and passed the Senate floor unanimously. HB108 has one more committee to move through and then onto the House floor.

Sarah Trujillo is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @sarahtweets_abq.