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In Texas, Community College Students Often Leave for Four-Year Schools Without a Degree

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT
Alberto Perez (left) is a junior at UT Austin's McCombs School of Business. He transferred into the school after attending ACC, but, like many students in Texas transferring into four-year universities, he didn't finish his associate degree.

Ever since Alberto Perez was a kid growing up in Dove Springs, he knew he wanted to go to UT Austin.

“I remember telling my mom, pointing at the tower, saying, 'that’s where I’m going to go to school,'" Perez remembers.

Perez went to Austin's Liberal Arts and Science Academy, a magnet school that's considered one of the best public high schools in the country. But during his senior year he separated a disc in his neck and tore his rotator cuff playing football with his friends. He started missing school to go see doctors. Then he started failing some classes. He was nervous he wouldn’t graduate on time, so he transferred to his neighborhood school, Akins High School. There, he discovered what he wanted to do with his life.

“That’s where I actually took my first accounting class, and that’s where I actually fell in love with accounting,” Perez says.

Perez graduated high school on time, but his GPA had taken a hit. It wasn’t high enough to get into UT. He and his parents decided he should enroll at Austin Community College.

“I took all the pre[requisites]," Perez says. "I took all my English classes, my math classes. I even took an accounting class there.”

Plus, it was cheaper at ACC. Perez spent two and a half years there before he was accepted to UT. But when he transferred, he didn’t leave with an associate degree.

“The way I took my classes were [that] they didn’t really pertain to a degree. It was just all these courses are transferrable to UT. So, they gave me a list, and I just kind of checked them off one by one," he says.

Perez isn’t the only student to transfer from community college without getting an associate degree or certificate. In Texas, only 18 percent of the community college students who transfer to four-year colleges do so with more than a high school diploma. 

“Because they don’t see a clear path and because what they want is a bachelor’s degree, they jump ship early and they go to the university," says Davis Jenkins, who led the study for the Community College Research Center.

Jenkins says even though students might take community college courses that transfer to a four-year school, the courses might not apply to their major.

“It means their education is going to be more expensive, and for the taxpayer it’s going to be more expensive," Jenkins says.

When students transfer without the associate degree or a certificate, Jenkins says they’re taking a risk. According to the research, a majority of Texas students who transfer to a four-year college don’t get their bachelor’s degrees within six years. Many have to fall back on their high school diploma, which limits their job potential. Perez says he understands that reality.

“Nowadays it’s so hard to get a job with just a high school diploma and even an associate degree," says Perez. "I mean, it’s some education, but I still feel like that's hard to get a job with.”

ACC and UT have online resources for students who want to transfer to a four-year college, including course outlinesfor specific majors. Perez says that was what he focused on.

“I never really had intentions to get an associate degree," Perez says. "It was always just, 'I’m going to UT. I’m going to a four-year college.' And, honestly, getting an associate degree wasn’t really brought up a lot when I would talk to counselors there. It was just kind of, 'Oh, if you want to transfer, these are the courses you should take.’”

Now a junior at UT Austin’s McComb’s School of Business, Perez says when he transferred, he was a few courses away from getting multiple associate degrees.

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