Friday, March 03, 2006



As a cc in an affluent area, one of our major functions is providing the first year or two of general education courses for students who intend to transfer elsewhere for the four-year degree. We’ve done that for a long time, and judging by the success of our students at their destination colleges, we’re good at it.

(Usually, the transfer-oriented students are of or close to traditional college age. These are the kids who may not have the money for tuition at the four-year schools, whether by dint of poverty or birth order, or they may be kids whose high-school careers could be described as checkered, or they may have family issues that preclude leaving home just yet.)

I’m very comfortable with the transfer group, since they take the bread-and-butter, plain-vanilla, they’ll-go-anywhere classes. They pour into General Psych, which is fine by me, since it’s a chalk-and-talk class that runs perfectly well at 35 students per section. Everybody wins.


The evil, horrible, nefarious, scum-sucking transcript evaluators at the four-year schools get a hold of them.

A few months ago I had a meeting with peers at the nearby branch of Flagship State, to explore the possibilities for an ‘articulation agreement’ between our schools. I was all set to go, about to propose concurrent enrollment, when they hit me with the number of credits one of our students would lose upon transfer.


That’s almost half of the associate’s degree. It’s a year, effectively. They’d lose a year of a two-year degree.

This at a public university, supported by the same taxpayers who support us. So the taxpayers get to pay twice for the student’s sophomore year, even if the student carried a 4.0.

Simply put, this is nuts.

Since my state faces some serious fiscal issues, this is doubly insane. We’re hitting the wall, financially, on all matter of really important issues, but we’re allowing Flagship State to get paid again for courses students have already taken at their local cc’s.

What makes it especially frustrating is how the result follows from the chain of command. Even if the VP or Dean of the area agrees to accept credits, the department chairs always balk. In effect, they overrule their own VP’s. The reason is always the same: they don’t want to “give away” too many credits (!).

I’ve heard that some states/provinces/countries have mandatory seamless transfer legislated into their systems. Question for my readers in those states/provinces/countries: does it work? I’m thinking it can’t be worse than what we’re doing...

It works, Dean Dad. In Maryland it works. What is going on in your state sounds incredibly unethical.
It worked 35 years ago in Calif. 'checkered', yah! I got out of Berkeley High School with a C+ average and an attitude, worked in a gas station and for a furniture store for a year, and got cured of my attitude but good. Then I went to Merritt Jr College, got decent grades, and transferred to Berkeley, graduated four years and two majors later.
Cal took my Merritt credits - the ones which had a UC counterpart course - and I have ever since blessed the UC Regents and community college educators who built second chances into the system.
What to do to jam this down the throats of the dinosaurs at your local Flagship State U? All politics are local, but it might be worthwhile to look at the history of how this kind os system got established in Calif and in Md.
Remember, this isn't just a CC thing. You want to transfer from State U, to U State? Same problem.

It really comes down to money and reputation. Certainly tuition is required to operate the University, and in many states the "State Government" has continued to reduce the amount of funding they provide to subsidize college education.

The other issue though is the reputation of the school. How many credits can one allow in, and still let a student, upon graduation, claim an education at "State University?" 1 yr? 2 yr? 3? And remember, many schools pride themselves on the quality of their education relative to the education quality at other schools. If they were to allow students to graduate with "State" degree, and "CC" coursework, where is the distinction?

I personally prefer the approach of not allowing the transfer of credits for graduation beyond a set amount, but accepting the coursework completed as satisfying the various curriculum requirements. As an academic, who sees value in learning, I see this as a win-win. Schools protect their income and reputation, while students get the "opportunity" to take classes they might otherwise have not had time or space to take.

For what it's worth...
Also look at Minnesota ---

Friends tell me it was a hard fought battle. When I was an undergrad there, people would regularly lose credits in transfer from State schools to the University and lots of credits from the CCs to both the state schools and the University.

As I left there, they started a state system they now call "Minnesota State Colleges and Universities" that covers all except the U of MN college. Google "MNSCU" for a start...

The MNSCU transfer agreement now covers 9 "skill areas" -- and each class that transfers fits into this scheme. Each new class needs to prove that it fulfills the goal or goals it matches.

I don't know the legislative history, but MNSCU is a state structure.

From what friends have told me, the faculty at the University level fought this hard -- saying that the CC faculty wasn't as qualified etc... all in an effort to protect their territory. I can see why they did it, it was a rational move as students who took a good intro course that doesn't transfer are GREAT students the second time around :).
You might want to try Nevada for a good example. I'm not sure how it is now (been out of NV for over a decade). At least when I was in high school attending CCSN once I ran out of AP courses, I remember the catalog specifically listing if the course would transfer to UNLV. (Most did.) But I also believe UNLV took almost everything if you transfered a completed AA. The system worked very hard at making sure the CC's matched up with the state university system.

But Nevada is also a state where large growth is taxing all of the university system to keep up... they'll do anything to prevent brain drain and keep people in the state. Maybe UNLV/UNR justify working with the CC's to take some of the load of the general education in their own institutions? Who knows.
"The Professor" makes a good point:

"The other issue though is the reputation of the school....And remember, many schools pride themselves on the quality of their education relative to the education quality at other schools."

I note also that there is no mention in DD's post of the comparative quality of the courses in question. He frames it as simple credit hour grubbing, but that seems to miss the point entirely. I see this all the time in another part of the country. My friends at the local CC think we're either trying to make students "pay twice" or we're simply snooty and standoffish. They are well meaning, and, as DD's tale suggests, more must be done to coordinate such things so that there are no unpleasant surprises for students, but they never can seem to wrap their minds around the fact that we actually do have higher standards at Flagship U. It is not a sham. Things that fly at Nearby CC really would not fly here.

I could provide numerous examples of the questionable syllabi that I have been asked to sign off on as "equivalent," complete w/ errors of spelling and grammar, texts approved by accrediting agencies for high school use, and delightfully idiosyncratic views of the putative topic of the course, but that would be cherry-picking and DD might still object that our "standards" are nonetheless "uneconomical" for the tax-payers of our state (who now foot about 10% of our bill for a very handsome return on their investment I would add). But that is exactly the heart of the matter and I'm afraid that on the side opposite DD on this one.
Hi Dean Dad,

I am in Minnesota right now at a community college (32 years, not the cc). The MNSCU guarantees that if you complete an AA degree (set out with 10 goals) at any CC in their system, you will automatically be able to transfer your credits and "check off" all your gen ed requirements at any State school in the system.

As the previous writer wrote, this DOES NOT include the University of MN or any of the private colleges. I am, however, planning a transfer to a private college. Each private college in our state (and many state and private colleges from surrounding states) have transfer guides that tell you exactly which classes they will or will not accept toward which general ed requirements at their college. Many courses are not accepted, but with careful planning, you can make sure you take the ones that are. Also, transfer guides are constantly changing, and a PHIL course I took my first semester at the CC was not on the revised transfer guide that came out midway through the semester.

Now pre-major courses are another thing. The professors at the university I want to attend (Hamline) suggested that I wait to take even the most introductory of major courses at their school as they have carefully set the curriculum up to be sequential. He didn't specifically say that they wouldn't accept those intro courses toward my major, but that's the feeling I got.
Perhaps a more pointed question for DD:

Do you feel that your courses are all "comparable" in quality, and content, to those courses offered at State School?

Right, wrong, or indifferent, many choose to go to community college because they cannot 'make it' at a 4 year school. While you have identified finances, and family situations as part of the reason, there is at least the perception that a significant portion of students attend because the CC is simply "easier"--or at least perceived to be.

I am not sure how to resolve the perception problem, other than making your CC faculty look more like 4 yr faculty--including research, publications, and consulting work. But I digress back to my comments that "Utopian CC" would have very active faculty--and my point that requirements for performance of faculty were all but ignored in that discussion.
The Professor raises a valid point. If the full-time faculty at Flagship State taught the intro courses, it would be fair to discuss relative quality. But they don't. The gen ed courses are almost uniformly taught by adjuncts -- in many cases, adjuncts who work at multiple institutions of varying reputation. I say a General Psych course taught by one of our full-timers is at least as good as a General Psych course taught by a freeway-flying adjunct at Flagship State.

We also have statistics on graduation rates on our side. Our grads who enroll at Flagship State graduate Flagship State at higher rates than their 'native' students do. I won't deny that it's an imperfect indicator, but if we were simply a diploma mill, that wouldn't happen.

I got my doctorate at Flagship State. I t.a.'ed there for several intro courses, and can say with confidence that a kid here in a section of 30 taught by a full-time prof gets more than a kid there in a section of 300 whose primary interaction, if any, is with the t.a.

The small elite private colleges sometimes actually put the eminent profs in small intro sections, so I won't argue about those. But for the State U's that actually exist, given how heavily they delegate the gen ed intro courses to t.a.'s and adjuncts, I find the assumption of lower quality at the cc suspect at best.
Check Texas (surprise, surprise) for a system that works, as well. There are articulation agreements between the local CCs and the state systems (University of Houston, Texas A&M, University of Texas) that list which CC classes transfer to which state U classes. The charts are usually printed right in the general annoucements of the CC.

Most CCs offer their students a guarantee that if the classes won't transfer as promised, they will give you another class tuition-free that will. (See an example at Disputes over transfers go to the state Higher Education Coordinating Board, so the state U does NOT get the final say.

The articulation agreements were legislated by Senate Bill 148 of the 75th Texas Legislature (1997).

Maybe you need to lobby your state legislature.

-I'm accounting as fast as I can
I was going to come back and talk about how I think community college students get a "better" experience in their intro courses than do the students at gigantic State U where there are hundreds of students in a classroom and grad "students" are teaching. All of the classes at my CC are taught by instructors who already have at least a Master's degree. And my largest class was about 40 students.....most classes are closer to 20 or less.

I would much rather be taught by a dedicated professor who has chosen their job because they enjoy or are well-skilled at teaching, than a t.a. who may or may not actually want to teach, but has to in order to get their degree.

But.....I don't actually need to say all that because Dean Dad already did.
I'm a 30-ish returning student and I agree with what Melissa has stated just above me. My math professors love teaching math, my English professors are very active in the local arts community and have had work published at some very prestigious publications, my art history professor actually operates a gallery and sits on the board of directors of a local art museum, and these kind of professors have been the rule during my time at the local community college. Plus I was able to get a good deal of one one one attention from them with only 25 students in the class and there is no way that would have happened at Flagship U's comp class. I'm a bit worried about my rather spotty science background, but I will deal with that in the fall as needed.

My experience with fellow students who have transfered to my state's Flagship U has been that they feel better prepared for their coursework there than students who started there straight from high school.

Michigan, under the MACRAO Agreement, has a policy for transferring gen-ed course work from the cc level to the university.

It reads: this agreement, designed to facilitate transfer from community colleges to baccalaureate colleges and universities, provides for transferability of up to 30 semester credits to meet many (in some cases all) of the general education requirements at the four-year colleges. Students may complete the MACRAO agreement as part of an associate degree or as a stand-alone package. This is in addition to very detailed transfer equivalency tables the state u's ,including Flagship U, maintain for all of the community colleges in the state.

I wonder if some of the reticence toward aligning more closely with your school, Dean Dad, is due to budget constraints. Why should they jeopardize the revenue stream?
We are in a state (Wyoming) with a pretty solid articulation agreement, albeit one that took quite a long time to come together.

There are a couple of arguments made above that I don't need to repeat, but, for your own institutional argument, consider the following: class sizes in our seven community colleges are significantly smaller (15-20 for intro biology as opposed to 250 or so at the flagship), and our six year graduation rate is about 10-15% higher for transfer students than it is for students who enroll as traditional freshmen.

As to the transfer classes not counting - as a WPA for 15 years or so I went back and forth on this a number of times (in Ohio at the time we were seeing more and more traditional students coming to college with entire semesters of coursework that had been completed during their senior year of high school). I always tried to get them to take our first-year comp course because it was not only an introduction to writing but an introduction to scholarship and the life of the mind on our campus; this often, for money reasons ("I've already paid once for this class, why do I have to pay again") failed.
I'll echo those who mentioned small class sizes & good success rates among CCs.

Washington state also has a statewide articulation agreement between the public CCs (and tech colleges) and the four-years.

I don't know a lot about it (don't work in that side of things), but here's the legal bits. (part II in particular)
The variety of course requirements even within our department make it hard to convince the local privates to sign off on global articulation agreements. I warn my students that comp I is pretty universally accepted, comp II not so much. Maybe some work in the departments to present comparable work? (not that such an idea would pass in our dept!).
Liz here from I Speak of Dreams

The University of California did a great deal of work in developing articulation agreements, resulting in part in a system-wide online articulation agreement.

You might look at what California does. Here's the main webpage:


ASSIST is a computerized student-transfer information system that can be accessed over the World Wide Web. It displays reports of how course credits earned at one California college or university can be applied when transferred to another. ASSIST is the official repository of articulation for California’s colleges and universities and therefore provides the most accurate and up-to-date information available about student transfer in California.

The ASSIST acronym stands for Articulation System Stimulating Interinstitutional Student Transfer. "

How did they get there? You can find out more from the current academic senate chair:

Academic Senate
University of California
1111 Franklin St.,
12th Floor
Oakland, CA
Following on the info provided by Liz for the U of Calif system, the Cal State system also adheres to the California Articulation Number (CAN) System and as such has transfer agreements with over 130 CCs. They've done a great job of making the info available, and while I only have anecdotal evidence of whether or not it "works," it has worked for me and for everyone I know who has used CCs to clear GE requirements, etc -- both the CCs and the CSU processed paperwork as appropriate, no credits were lost, etc.
I have the best readers, ever!

Thanks for all the comparative info!

My state has one of those course-by-course equivalency websites, but it's misleading. Frequently, a four-year school will 'accept' a course, but give it 'free elective' status. Since most programs have few, if any, 'free' electives, it's a way to disallow credits without actually owning up to it in public.

Yes, I firmly believe it's about revenue.

I'd heard about Washington before -- I have a friend on the faculty at the Univ. of Washington. He said that the U only teaches the third and fourth years of undergrad, plus grad classes; it relies entirely on the two-year system to handle the intro courses. I'm not sure I'd want to go that far, but from a cc perspective, it's certainly a vote of confidence.

The Michigan solution strikes me as shaky. Allowing only 30 credits is effectively allowing only one year, so a student with a two-year degree would still lose a year. That is, if I'm reading it right.

The Texas system sounds promising. I like the idea of a neutral statewide arbiter. Once you get the parochial turf interests out of the equation, then you really can have honest and intelligent conversations about quality at both schools.

Great stuff! Any other states care to chime in? You have no idea how much time I'm saving here!
In Indiana, our Higher Education Commission mandated 30--and later 60--credit hours that must be transferable between all four-year institutions and from what has recently become our only community college.

At my institution, the only requirement is that your last 30 hours has to be with us.
I was going to mention Maryland, but Joanna beat me to it. Credits taken in any public college transfer to other public college, CCs and major universities included. It's nice to know that you won't have problems (transcript related at least) when transfering intra-state.
Another person chiming in here from California: Yes, it works. The CC I attend just for fun has clear, spelled-out rules about which courses are transferable to University of California campuses. These rules are made clear to entering students.

I don't know how hard classes are at this community college, in general. The Spanish language classes I take are demanding, certainly as demanding as any language classes I took when I was getting my four-year degree at a prestigious university.
A big issue we deal with is how our teacher education program in our arts and sciences department is evaluated. The outside accountability expected of us gets filtered down to assuring that students come to us with the same foundation - especially when the accreditation agencies tell us that "grades" are not "authentic assessment" . . . . . so the outside pressure isn't helping on this issue. Plus, you're dealing with some of the traditional biases that contradict the fact that students are sometimes better served by lower division courses at cc's where actual full-time faculty teach them.
For Texas, here's the list published by the state of the transferrable classes:

-I'm accounting as fast as I can
I'm just a student in GA, but information I've gotten from fellow students says that any course from any school in the University System of Georgia counts at any other school.

And an actual Associate's Degree from an accredited university trumps all - they won't question any of the courses in that degree.
Two quick bandwagon comments:

As an administrator/faculty at a "small elite LAC," the point about course quality is well-taken. We do hesitate to automatically accept all transfer credit from CCs because we worry about course quality. However, we're pretty good about the sort of "plain vanilla" courses DD mentions. We also have a cap on total transferrable credits so that we can have quality control over our degree.

Our bigger issue, and one I face specifically in my role as the associate dean of the first year, is determining what sorts of communication skills work we should require of transfers. I administer a very complex two-semester first-year program that is the site of our communication skills instruction (including research skills). When kids come in from CCs (and other 4-year schools), it's often hard to tell just what they've done in reading, writing, and research skills, and that's before we even think about the quality of that work. I hate making transfers take lower-level writing and speaking courses here, but if we aren't confident they've had it elsewhere, we'll do it mainly to protect the value of our degree.
In the European Union, courses taken at one university should be accepted at others. Universites give a letter grade for all their courses in addittion to their national or university grading scheme (numeric or whatever).

That's theory. In practice, each course taken at other universites has to be approved to ensure its equivalence, and of course this can be taken as an excuse not to accept anything (national and university pride lurking ahead.....). Still worse, some traditional systems, e.g. the German one with very few very big exams, do not fit in. However, these are gradually replaced via the "Bologna process" geared at somwhat unifying higher education across Europe.

The "European Credit Transfer System" (ECTS) was initially introduced to allow stundents a term or a year abroad and works fine for that. However, I do not know what happens if a lot of people start to transfer more than a year.

Still, if we manage to start something like that (at least on paper), an American state, which is much more uniform than the whole of Europe, should mangae as well, so kepp trying!
Another innovation in Minnesota that is pretty sweet for transfer student is a website called the Course Applicability System (MnCAS) which is a system where students can see how different courses will transfer to different institutions. Basically, transcript evaluators across the state have coordinated with each other to make a transfer students credits predictably transfer - it's not perfect, but at least it is fair warning about how courses will transfer in advance, and it takes some of the burden off of students to appeal unfair denials of transferred courses. See Great blog!
I attend a CUNY community college in New York City. I am a "mature student" meaning I am over 23 years old. Anyone who earns an associates degree is guaranteed admission to a senior CUNY college and granted 60 credits.

One can go to the tipps website "" and find out how the class they're taking will transfer into any of the other CUNY schools.

Most SUNY schools will accept a CUNY community college student without a high school transcript if they earn at least 32 credits and have a decent gpa.

I'm taking science and math classes. My Calculus II class has 9 students. My biology class has no more than 30 students and our bio professor used to be a professor at Boston College. In my 3 semesters I never had a class larger than 35 students and I've always been taught by a PhD.

I am trying to transfer to SUNY stony brook but I am not looking forward to sitting in Organic Chem lecture with 300 other students.
I'm not involved in undergraduate transfers, so I don't know the in-practice details regarding accepted transfer credits at my school. I do have experience with a related issue that has not arisen yet. I teach in an engineering discipline, and our courses have more than two years of stacked prerequisites. If a student doesn't have the 1st semester sophomore course, they can't take the 2nd semester courses, and then in year 3 (say if they are transferring from a CC, even with all credits accepted) they are stuck in the year 2 engineering courses. The net effect is needing 3 years at Flagship State, even if transferring 2 full years of credits allowed.
Our state (New Mexico) is moving towards a system of state mandated articulation because the voluntary agreements simply weren't working well. However, my experience was that the primary problem wasn't that students credts wouldn't transfer (nearly everything transfered) but that students didn't have transfer credits that were useful for satisfying our degree requirements.

e.g. a student transfering into engineering had 30 credits of humanities and social science while we only require 24 credits of H&SS. The student also have 17 credits of math, but only the last 8 credits of calculus would count toward the engineering degree requirements. So, a student who had taken 60 credit hours found that only 32 of them were actually useful in earning a degree at our institution.
Sorry for the late comment, but let me add two more comments to the discussion, particularly addressed to the issue of mandating credit transfer.

1. There is a fundamental concern with this: that it interferes with faculty control over their degree programs. Faculty should make decisions regarding what courses are required to get a degree, not state legislators.

2. Mandating transferability actually doesn't solve the problem; it merely turns it into an admissions problem. Rather than refuse to transfer credits, four year institutions can merely refuse to admit students.

The only solution I see is negotiated agreements between CCs and four year schools. That allows you to advocate for your students and educational processes and the four year schools to advocate for what they see as their degree program integrity. Both of these are appropriate roles. Likely, the result will not be perfect, but, if communicated clearly to students, then it should at least be something everyone can live with.

One might point out that there is a certain asymmetry here: what can the CCs do to pressure the four year institutions? I'll merely point out that there are probably more CCs in your state than four year schools, and, by some coincidence, there likely is one in every state legislative district. Plus, the four year schools probably do allow some credits to transfer. So, it is in their best interest, both in terms of educational quality and politics (note to state legislators: see how well we work together) to work with you over time to improve the articulation agreement.
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