Students are back on campus, excited about seeing their old friends, making new ones, sharing summer experiences and, as always, nervous about their new classes and professors. Many students are in college for the first time and are experiencing the academic and personal freedom that makes college and universities such a challenge.

However, this fall semester, students and campuses are encountering additional challenges and changes as a result of recent legislative changes to higher education.

One example of recent legislation that has resulted in changes is House Bill 588, introduced by Rep. Irma Rangel. This is also known as the "automatic admission bill" and was initiated in reaction to the Hopwood decision.

HB 588 mandates general academic teaching institutions to admit applicants who graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school classes. The bill also recommends and encourages institutions to consider factors other than tests in their admissions processes in order to enroll students who reflect the state population.

Institutions are encouraged to take into consideration factors such as socioeconomic background, first generation in college, bilingual proficiency, financial status of the applicant's school, weighted test scores and school and community involvement. The implementation of HB 588 has resulted in visible changes in the selection criteria of institutions and has provided new options for students throughout the state of Texas.

Senate Bill 148 assigned the Higher Education Coordinating Board the responsibility for developing a recommended core curriculum of at least 42 semester credit hours, including a statement of content, component areas and objectives of the core curriculum.

Each institution has been asked to adopt a core curriculum of at least 42 credit hours, which is consistent with the Texas Common Course Numbering System and with the recommendations issued by the board. This will make it possible for a student who successfully completes the 42-hour core at an institution of higher education and then transfers to substitute that block of courses for the receiving institution's core.

SB 148 also amended the Texas Academic Skills Program policy to establish course prerequisites based on students' TASP test scores. As of Fall 1998, students will not be allowed to enroll in certain courses until they pass the TASP test. Students who fail one or more sections of the test must participate in and complete appropriate developmental activities before re-taking the TASP. Students may not enroll in skill-area courses for the part of the test they failed.

This policy will obviously affect many of our students and has already caused much confusion and several problems for entering students. Successful implementation of this legislation will require extensive advising and institutional support service in order to avoid unnecessary delays in students completing their degree plans.

Senate Bill 1907 established the so-called "170-hour cap" that limits the number of semester credit hours that the state will fund for individual students. Beginning in Fall 1999, institutions will not be funded for semester credit hours earned by undergraduate students who attempted 170 or more semester credit hours in state-supported institutions. Campuses will be allowed to charge tuition at a higher rate to these students.

While the intent may be to encourage students to plan their educational trek, many students whose attendance depends on their work schedules and often drop courses may see their persistence and hard work seriously affected.

SB 1907 also includes language that rewards students who complete their baccalaureate degrees with no more than three hours in excess of the minimum number of semester credit hours required. Students who enrolled in Fall 1997 or later are eligible to participate in the tuition rebate program and will receive a $1,000 rebate if they complete their degrees within the prescribed criteria.

Many students may not even notice the changes, while others will definitely feel the impact. Individuals interested in learning more about the changes can access information on legislative bills through www.capitol.state.tx.us or from the Coordinating Board at www.thecb.state.tx.us.

As the legislative process again gets under way, students may want to contact their representatives to express their views and ideas on how to improve access, choice and success in higher education.

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