Monday, October 17, 2005


Double Dipping

Having managed on both sides of the non-profit/for-profit divide, I’m not especially spooked by the spectre of efficiency. If anything, I take comfort knowing that many of the for-profit ‘innovations’ that have sparked greater ‘efficiency’ in higher ed are as banal and fruitless as they are – adjunct/outsourcing, reducing travel funding, etc.

That said, I don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with efficiency, per se. In fact, as public funding gets progressively scarcer, we’ll need to get more efficient if we want to continue to do our best work.

I didn’t fully appreciate just how far we are from even reasonable efficiency until my recent trip to a prominent four-year school, to try to negotiate an articulation agreement. (An articulation agreement is a contract between two schools in which they agree that a student who transfers from the first school to the second, with a given major, will have x number of credits recognized. As a cc that sends a great many students on to four-year schools, these are big deals for us.) Students who graduate from our college with an associate’s degree (the equivalent of two years of full-time study) expect, reasonably, to be able to get a bachelor’s degree in two more years. There are exceptions, such as when students switch majors or go part-time, but a full-time student who sticks with a program, the theory goes, shouldn’t take any longer to get a four-year degree than a similar student who started at a four-year school.

Or so you’d think.

At the meeting with some high-level administrators of a nearby (public) four-year college, I was told, to my face, that students would lose a full year’s worth of credits. Possibly more, depending on some pretty bizarre variables.

Leave aside personal or professional pride, educational ethics, or what’s best for the student; from a taxpayer’s perspective, this is flat-out theft. The four-year school wants to re-teach a full year’s worth of what our local taxpayers have already subsidized. Why? Jobs and funding. The four-year school wants to get paid as much as possible, so it doesn’t want to ‘give away’ credits.

If the public sector wasn’t so caught up in respecting local prerogatives and faculty fiefdoms, it would simply mandate transferability of credits between public institutions in the same state, at least within a given major.

The for-profit at which I used to work was extremely generous, almost too much so, on the question of transfer credits. The reason was simple: it helped with recruitment, and therefore with enrollment. Educational outcomes weren’t in doubt; students who came in with transfer credits graduated at higher rates than ‘native’ students did (which is also true at the public four-year college in question). It isn’t about quality.

The problem is that the folks who have final say over these decisions (the tenured faculty at the four-year school) are disconnected from the consequences of the decision. Power without accountabilty leads to what economists call ‘rent-seeking’ behavior, or milking the system for one’s own benefit.

An intelligent (and empowered) manager of a state public system would simply impose two basic rules: common course numbers for intro courses (so Psych 101 is Psych 101 across the system), and mandatory transferability for intro courses across the system. Private schools that wanted to compete would have to play along, or transfer students would rarely choose them. That way, the taxpayers who subsidized Stacy’s freshman comp at the local cc wouldn’t have to subsidize her freshman comp AGAIN at the local four-year. (BTW, I have no issue with requiring, say, a grade of ‘C’ for the transfer to count. That’s pretty much the industry standard.)

This argument will probably get attacked as applying ‘commodity logic’ to something as ineffable as education. If so, what the hey. There’s a logic to not paying twice for the same course. If you want to call that ‘commodity logic,’ go ahead. I call it common sense, and something I can defend to my tax-hating father-in-law.

It could also be used to attack taxpayer funding of remedial courses in college – they already paid for high-school math in the high schools, so why should they pay again in the colleges? The answer, of course, is results. Students who transfer from cc’s to four-year schools graduate at higher rates than ‘native’ students; quality is not the issue. Students who fail basic cc placement tests for English and math graduate at much lower rates than other students; quality is exactly the issue. The stats tell the story.

Idiotic boondoggles like these just give the screw-higher-ed conservatives ammunition. Let’s get our house in order intelligently, so they can’t use forehead-slap moments like these as stalking horses for much broader agendas.

Sounds like your state could use a variant on the Illinois Articulation Initiative. We already have common course numbers at Northern Illinois with some of our neighboring feeder community colleges, as well as more formal agreements on what courses transfer, and in some cases Northern Illinois offers the 300- and 400- level courses at the community college site (Rock Valley in Rockford, Ill. most commonly.)

The remediation is another matter ... I'd really like the community colleges and the universities to get out of the high school business ...
My boyfriend and I have run into this problem head on. Apparently the UC system won't recognize his AA degree from a local CC...not at all. He can't even transfer in without taking at least 2 more years of courses. Total BS. Instead he has to take more liberal arts crap at a local Cal State and then transfer in.
UC is losing our money completely in this scenario, because its both cheaper and more reasonable for him to just get a BS at Cal State, which will recognize all his prior work.
Once upon a time, I was in the Calif. system. I seem to remember that the schools with articulation agreements work amazingly well -- that's what I did, with the added bonus of GPA being wiped when I started at UC. But I actually chose my CC based on the articulation agreement -- back in 1982.

I ran into a student today who claimed to have enough credits to be a second-quarter junior. Since we were in class, I did not point out that he probably didn't, because there is a requirement that a certain number of credits be upper-division.
Gosh, I'm surprised (and disappointed) that your state university is creating such roadblocks for students.

My (anecdotal) impression is that private NON-profit colleges in our state are VERY willing to recognize credits from community colleges.

In fact, I even know of a student with an A.S. from our local community college who transferred out of state to Carnegie-Mellon, and CMU honored all his community college credits, which allowed him to graduate with a B.S. in computer science only 2 years after he got his A.S.

But I guess our state public universities feel they can afford to be picky--they don't have room for all the 2-year-students who want to transfer.

That's really unfortunate. I'm very impressed with the quality of instruction at our local cc (even though it's open enrollment, no honors program, etc.) I think, on the whole, the cc profs really do a pretty good job of maintaining standards in their classes, because they are concerned about the cc's reputation with the 4-year colleges their graduates attend downstream. (One indication: some high school students who take dual-enrollment courses at the cc take the corresponding AP exam after taking a cc course--and they score well on those exams without additional study beyond what was required for their cc course.)

Students who have transferred to our closest state university have reported disappointment with the quality of instruction at the state university, vs. what they had gotten at the cc.
Most of my CIS students earn AAS degrees, traditionally a "terminal degree" for technical and vocational students.

My most successful graduates eventually reach a ceiling when they gain experience and try to become supervisors or managers. They lack a bachelor's degree. However, when they try to transfer, they lose even more credits than AA or AS students since many of their courses are technical and few are core general education classes.

These students are technicians and are not interested in degrees in computer science. Instead, they often choose degrees in businesss, which they believe will help them with getting jobs as managers. This isn't a good solution--these folks are technicians who need managerial skills, but they lose so many credits when they transfer that it takes them an indefensible number of years to earn bachelors degrees.

We're working with one institution, Missouri State, which has a viable solution for this issue. They will accept all credits earned towards an AAS at an accreditated instution. Additionally, they require students with an AAS degree to earn an AA degree. The student then completes upper division general education courses and professional courses at Missouri State or online through Missouri State.

The result is a highly skilled technician with managerial skills, certainly a respectable achievement for a student who completes a bachelors degree.

I can't imagine how the faculty at MSU were able to pull this off, but it is the kind of innovative program that produces able employees for industry and viable careers and lives for students.
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