Jordan Williams, a San Jacinto Community College student, poses for a photo.
Jordan williams, a san Jacinto Community college student, discusses his plan to obtain a bachelor's degree. Credit: Melissa Trevizo, San Jacinto College

Jordan Williams always had his sights on attending a four-year university one day. During his days as a high school student in his native state of Oklahoma, he struggled to figure out what he wanted to do as a career and didn’t want to run the risk of entering into a bachelor’s degree program without a solid game plan.

Instead, he chose to pack his bags and enrolled at San Jacinto College to explore his interests.

“I knew I liked computers and engineering, but I never knew that I could combine the two,” he said. “I wanted to be as cost-efficient as possible. Community college would allow me to get a good education without breaking the bank.”

Williams is one of many community college students on the path to earning a bachelor’s degree. While it makes financial sense to go to a community college, students may discover that some credits can be denied when attempting to transfer courses from one school to the next. Community college attendees also run the risk of taking too many classes, resulting in a lost time and excess debt.

According to the public policy think tank Texas2036, in the fall of 2020, roughly 17,000 students failed to transfer a combined 70,000 courses to Texas public universities. Of those students, 5,500 failed to transfer five or more courses – or a full semester’s worth of coursework, while nearly 200,000 Texas students were graduating annually with an excess of 22 additional credit hours.

Colleges nationwide are implementing measures to facilitate seamless transfers between institutions and designing academic and career pathways that align with transfer requirements. That is exactly what the Houston Guided Pathways to Success program has accomplished since 2015.

Houston GPS is a consortium of 13 Houston-area colleges and universities, including Texas Southern University and Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU), helping students stay on track within their respective degree programs.

Their easy to navigate pathway strategy includes:

Degree Mapping: Students receive clear roadmaps outlining the courses they need to take from day one of community college and throughout their bachelor’s degree program.

Structured Schedules: This provides students with a consistent schedule plan to better serve working students.

Proactive Advising: This offers guidance and support for students transitioning between institutions.

A portrait of Dr. Loren Blanchard.
UHD President Dr. Loren Blanchard. Credit: University of Houston-Downtown

The thought of going to college seemed daunting to Williams considering mounting college debt has been a hot button new topic, but he is thankful for the guidance and mentorship provided by San Jacinto through its Student Success Curriculum for first-year students.

“The key part of this transfer program is locking them down so that there won’t be any surprises along the way so they can be fully acclimated to the experience from day one,” said University of Houston-Downtown President Dr. Loren J. Blanchard. “Timing and degree completion is important in terms of creating more flexibility for students on the financial side.”

Blanchard said community colleges and four-year universities are in communication about what they can provide each student. Academic advising, tutoring services and mentorship are a few resources students can use to keep on track.

Williams is in his second-year, and has his eyes on PVAMU next spring to complete his degree in computer engineering.

“I didn’t have a lot of Black role models in the field of STEM,” said Williams. “It’s a good feeling to attend a school where people look like me in high positions. What I do in the next two years is going to lay that foundation for me, and I’m excited for what’s ahead.”

I cover Houston's education system as it relates to the Black community for the Defender as a Report for America corps member. I'm a multimedia journalist and have reported on social, cultural, lifestyle,...