Is there a limitation on the number of semester credit hours in a bachelor's degree?
In 2005, the 79th Regular Session of the Texas Legislature enacted a statute that placed a limit on the number of semester credit hours (SCH) that a public university ("general academic teaching institution") may require for any bachelor's degree it offers. The following is the full text of the statute: TEXAS EDUCATION CODE, Chapter 61, SUBCHAPTER C. § 61.0515. SEMESTER CREDIT HOURS REQUIRED FOR BACCALAUREATE DEGREE. a. To earn a baccalaureate degree, a student may not be required by a general academic teaching institution 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. b. The board may review one or more of an institution's baccalaureate degree programs to ensure compliance with this section. c. Subsection (a) does not apply to a baccalaureate degree awarded by an institution to a student enrolled in the institution before the 2008 fall semester. This subsection does not prohibit the institution from reducing the number of semester credit hours the student must complete to receive the degree. Added by Acts 2005, 79th Leg., ch. 1230, § 12, eff. June 18, 2005. (HB 1172, 79R-2005).
The statute does not state a specific number of hours; why is it called the "120- hour rule?"
Subsection (a) of Section 61.0515 states that a student must not be required to complete more than the minimum number of semester credit hours (SCH) required for a baccalaureate (bachelor's) degree by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools or its successor. That limit, which has remained the same for many years and is current as of 2008, is 120 semester credit hours. This means that most bachelor's degree programs are now limited to a maximum of 120 SCH for graduation.
Are all colleges, universities, and health science centers that offer bachelor's degrees affected by this limit?
The statute specifies only "general academic teaching institutions," which by definition [TEC 61.003(4)] means public senior colleges and universities. Thus, special purpose institutions of higher education like medical units (health science centers) and community colleges are not affected.
Does the statute allow any exceptions for bachelor's degree programs at universities?
Paragraph (a) of §61.0515 states that the requirement must be met "unless the institution determines that there is a compelling academic reason for requiring completion of additional semester credit hours for the degree." The Coordinating Board (CB) understands that each institution is responsible for reviewing for any exceptions to the limitation. Exceptions based on what the university considers a "compelling academic reason" should be officially approved at the institution, and records regarding the basis for such a decision should be retained. Other statutes (for example, the statute that enacts the B-on-Time loan forgiveness program) identify "5-year" degree programs - currently those in engineering and architecture. Such a statutory identification could potentially provide a basis for determining a compelling academic reason to raise the limitation on SCH required for graduation in those programs. Institutions would determine other compelling academic reasons based on the information presented in a request during the internal review process.
What is the Coordinating Board's role in implementing this law?
When the law was enacted in 2005, CB legal staff determined that responsibility for implementation was directed primarily at institutions of higher education, rather than the CB. Thus, the legal staff recommended that the CB did not need to adopt any additional rules regarding the statute. The role of the Coordinating Board is limited to a permissive provision that staff may review one or more of an institution's baccalaureate degree programs to ensure compliance. Staff considers that ensuring compliance would include determining what the institutional process was for determining the necessary number of SCH for each degree program, and how any exceptions were justified. It is up to the institution to develop a policy identifying compelling academic reasons for allowing a higher number of SCH to be required for a particular program.
Is there a penalty if an institution fails to comply?
No penalty was stated in the statute.
Does the 120-hour rule prohibit students from registering for more than 120 hours of work?
The limitation in the 120-hour statute is not on the student, who can enroll for however many SCH the student wants, but is a limit on what the institution can allow to be required for graduation in a particular degree program (AKA "field of study" or "academic discipline"). Students should keep in mind their limitation on attempted credit hours. That means they will need to plan as if their major requires no more than 120 SCH (unless they already know otherwise). That number, plus the 45 or 30 SCH they can expend in attempted SCH before they run into excess credit hour situations requiring them to pay much higher tuition rates, is one they need to have well in mind.
I am attending a community college, but want to pursue a bachelor's degree; how might the 120-hour rule affect me?
Students at community colleges will need to plan for their transfer at or before the 60 - 66 SCH "halfway point" that has always been the logical transfer point anyway. Students who decide to switch majors later in their undergraduate careers will need to be aware of potential consequences, and community college advising and counseling is the first line of preparation for good decision-making throughout the student's academic career.