Monday, April 28, 2008

 

Ask the Administrator: Transferring

A new correspondent writes:

I read your blog everyday. I go to a suny cc (I
graduate in June) and our advisement staff is beyond
dismal, so I thought I'd ask you this. How do
transfer agreements between a cc and a 4-year school
work exactly? Obviously assuming that you already met
a colleges transfer admission requirements (and the
transfer agreement requirements, in terms of what type
of cc degrees the agreement includes), where does a
student coming from a cc w/ a transfer agreement stand
exactly? Are you ahead of the rest of the "transfer
cattle"? Are you automatically accepted? I ask you
this because 2 of the suny universities I want to go
to have transfer agreements with my cc.

It's a great question, and a topic I really should have addressed sooner.

Theoretically, anybody coming from a regionally-accredited institution should have no trouble transferring credits for relevant courses, assuming grades of C or better and initial acceptance into the receiving institution. Of course, theoretically, the sun could turn into a bran muffin tomorrow. (I think it's called Brownian motion, though the physicists out there are invited to correct me.) Doesn't mean it's gonna happen.

Transfer is a sticky area, since it involves multiple decision points, each with different interests. Say that you've majored in math at your cc, and you're transferring to Obscure State College to get a four-year degree. The decision to admit you to the institution will be made by the Admissions office, which has numbers it has to hit. Its incentive is to be generous.

But transfer-of-credit decisions are frequently made by the receiving department, rather than the college as a whole. And the receiving department has every incentive to be picky, since it would rather get paid to re-teach as many courses as possible. So it probably won't contest your English Comp classes, since it doesn't teach those anyway, but I'd expect some pushback on the math classes. They'll ask for syllabi, they'll object to the smallest differences, and they'll insist on you re-taking as many courses as they think they can get away with. I've actually seen cases in which a nearby state college tried to reject a course taught by the same adjunct who teaches ours, with the same textbook and the same syllabus. When money is on the line, shame evaporates.

Some of the savvier cc departments have reacted to this by going directly to the departments at four-year colleges and negotiating “articulation agreements,” which are basically contracts between colleges spelling out the conditions and rules for transfer. The incentive for the cc comes on the recruitment end; if we can truthfully assure prospective students (and their parents) that credits will transfer, we're likelier to get them to enroll. The incentive for the four-year college is in competing with other four-year colleges. If a student asks us where he can transfer, and one college has committed to giving full credit for our classes while another usually gets unreasonably picky, which one do you think we'll recommend? A couple of years ago, when the state budget ax fell particularly hard on a couple of our local destination schools, I noticed their attitude towards transfers changed, post-haste. All of a sudden, the courses that “just weren't the same” abruptly were. Color me shocked.

As far as automatic acceptance goes, that's rare. Usually if they have that, the cc will tell you upfront.

In some states, the legislatures have decided – correctly -- that subsidizing the same course for the same student twice is a waste of taxpayer money, so they've stepped in and actually mandated transfers of credit. Of course, mandates often have loopholes, and some schools have become adept at navigating those loopholes. The two big ones are:

  1. Graduation. Many articulation agreements, and even some state compacts or mandates, only take effect if you actually graduate from the cc with an Associate's degree. If you transfer prior to graduation – say, do one year and then jump – the destination school can cherry-pick to its heart's content. A degree often has to be accepted as a 'block,' but credits without a degree are vulnerable.

  1. “Free elective” status. This is probably the more annoying of the two. Frequently, destination schools will give 'credit' for every course you've taken, but declare that some of those courses aren't part of the major into which you're transferring. So they declare the courses “free electives,” which is shorthand for “we don't want to own up to the fact that we're turning these down, but good luck getting them to count for anything.” It's a sort of purgatory for unwanted courses. As with so many things, there are times when this is appropriate – say, if you change majors – but the legitimate uses create an opening for illegitimate ones. Keep a close eye on this one.

My first recommendation would be to do some comparison shopping. Talk to the Admissions people at a few possible destination schools, and ask specifically about credits counting toward your intended major. If you can, get it in writing. And don't be shy about telling them you're comparison shopping. At this point, you're in the driver's seat. That changes once you commit, so don't commit until you know you're getting a reasonable deal.

Good luck!

Wise and worldly readers – your thoughts?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.


Comments:
DD,

I direct composition at a big university, and we turn down transfer requests for writing courses all the time. Not because we make any money on it (dollars do not follow students here). Rather, we have a set of activities that we check: Did the student write a long (8-10 page) research paper? Did the student learn about plagiarism, citation, and research (including online)? Many writing courses out there focus on short essays, no research, and literary analysis. These aren't the writing abilities we've deemed necessary to our students, so if that's the class you've taken, you'll be back in fyc.

This doesn't make students happy -- particularly if they've been assured "everybody" will transfer their comp course -- and it doesn't make my life easier -- one more student to seat in a low enrollment class. But I don't think it would be fair to turn a blind eye, given how many resources we put into fyw for our students who take this course with us. Making the transfer students happy on this issue would do them a disservice. Never mind the headaches if one of them violated the honor code, and was sharp enough to argue that they had never been introduced to the honor code since they never took fyw, the course in which this is covered.

BTW could you explain a bit on your comments about English departments "not teaching composition"?

Thanks for the smart, informative blog, btw -- I read it every day!

Erinna
 
"But transfer-of-credit decisions are frequently made by the receiving department, rather than the college as a whole. And the receiving department has every incentive to be picky, since it would rather get paid to re-teach as many courses as possible."

I don't know that I'd agree that this is frequently, or even often, the norm for who makes most xfer credit decisions at 4-year universities. Curious about your statement, I took a gander at 5 or 6 different state universities (regional comprehensive, research and in a variety of different states and environments - a range, in other words) and from looking at their admissions pages, they all seem to work xfer credits the way that we do at my institution, which is not what you describe. So, another version of how xfer credit decisions are made looks like the following:

Student applies, and is admitted, and then people who work in the office of the registrar (i.e., the people responsible for transcripts) figure out what courses xfer in (a) and fulfill requirements (b).

Sometimes, that's a completely fine situation. For example, a student coming from a CC typically has taken courses that just fulfill general education requirements, and if that student is at a local cc, with whom we have an agreement, then it's clear that courses x, y, and z can be renumbered to courses a, b, and c at our university. Sometimes, it gets more complicated, particularly if a student xfers in from a university or college with whom there are no such agreements and/or if a student took a course that was more specialized or that didn't have the same name/description as our similar course. The registrar people are just about plugging in numbers, and since that's the case, courses that *should* count toward the degree can sometimes receive elective credit or no credit at all on this first pass.

This is where it gets trickier. In that case, you've got to "prove" that the course should "count," and this is the point at which decisions about awarding credit are forwarded to the department. And this is where it's good to have a sample syllabus and copies of one or more assignments from the course. Also, you can get the instructor from your former college to assist you (sometimes - this is more difficult if the instructor that you took was an adjunct) by writing a letter to the university into which you are xfering (I've done with this success for a few different students). It is not unusual for courses to be written off as electives or as not counting for the major by the people at the first stage of the process (the registrar) but for that to be overruled at the department level if the student just brings it to our attention and makes a strong case. (Another thing that can help is to have your adviser within your new institution to help you navigate these waters in your first semester at the new place. A lot of time just having a faculty member go to bat for you really helps, and they understand the bureaucracy of the specific institution.)

And while yes, all departments and universities are playing a numbers game in some regards, I'm not so cynical as to think that we're trying to bilk our students for more and more tuition money at my university in the way that Dean Dad suggests, which to me seems patently unethical. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, but I think that it happens perhaps less than DD indicates here.
 
Oh, and to clarify: when decisions are forwarded to the department, each course in question is forwarded to the department in which that course is housed, so Math handles your Math classes that are in question, English your English courses, etc. You can find yourself dealing with five or six departments across the university - all with their own policies - if you have a difficult transfer case.
 
0. The time to look at the transfer requirements (and requirements for a specific major) for SUNY-X and SUNY-Y was about one year ago. You could get admitted to the Uni but not to the specific program or college you have as your goal.

1. If you can't get the statements by admissions (or financial aid) people in writing, at least make your own written record of what was said and the full name of the person who said it. That is the number 1 piece of advice my alumni pass on to current students.

2. As I am sure others will explain, Erinna (4:09 AM) has clearly outlined why articulation agreements or compacts are so important to CC students. They guarantee that the fyw class at xCC will transfer to a particular Big University.

3. There is a difference between accepting a course for transfer credit toward gen-ed (first two years) requirements and accepting it as a required course in the major. That is where the departments have the most pull and where articulation agreements play a particularly strong role. My physics class is articulated with the requirements of almost all engineering colleges. (It would not pass muster at Harvey Mudd, but it does a other top 20 schools.) Some other "physics" class might only count for pre-med majors, and mine might not count for some physics programs. That is where the process described by Dr. Crazy is most critical.

4. The most important advising step is making sure the student has learned everything needed to start taking junior classes after transfer. That often requires much more sophisticated articulation agreements and careful study of major requirements by the student.

PS to Erinna:
Are you sure your university actually loses money on fyw classes? If it does, it should seriously consider offering a one credit "bridge" course on research papers that also covers honor code issues specific to your university. Could improve your marketability.
 
You're absolutely correct to point out that this can actually rely on personalities within departments.

Another growing concern, however, is that in the assessment arena - esp. when dealing with teacher education - 4 year schools are held accountable for all courses in the major, whether they were taught at their school or transferred in from anywhere else (not just cc's but also other 4 year schools).

So, if the students' Praxis II content scores are used to evaluate our instructional effectiveness, we have no choice but to be pickier about transfer.

Your advice for the student to check this out BEFORE making any assumptions is absolutely correct.
 
The advise DD gives about talking carefully with admissions people, especially the person in charge of credit articulation, is good.

I chaired a dept. at a SUNY 4 year campus for a while and chairs had absolute discretion to decide on how credit applies in a given department. Departments vary a lot at my college. I know of 2 departments who do not accept ANY credit from ANY college into their major. Ridiculous, I know. Most others are reasonable.

But, for a SUNY CC it is likely that many courses have been evaluated and you should be able to get a good sense of what credit will apply where. Ask. Make sure you get answers. These answers can cost you a year or more of tuition.

Another thing for a SUNY CC student going to a SUNY 4 year college to keep in mind is that your gen ed requirements AREN'T automatically waived even if you have completed your 2 year degree. (This is a terrible policy, but it exists so you should know.) Ask the admissions office to run your credits through their gen ed to see how much if any you will need to complete. I have seen students who are done and students who have to almost start from scratch.

Good luck! It is too bad that SUNY does such a poor job with this, but a persistent student can get answers and in the end an excellent education combining SUNY CCs and 4 years.
 
The advise DD gives about talking carefully with admissions people, especially the person in charge of credit articulation, is good.

I chaired a dept. at a SUNY 4 year campus for a while and chairs had absolute discretion to decide on how credit applies in a given department. Departments vary a lot at my college. I know of 2 departments who do not accept ANY credit from ANY college into their major. Ridiculous, I know. Most others are reasonable.

But, for a SUNY CC it is likely that many courses have been evaluated and you should be able to get a good sense of what credit will apply where. Ask. Make sure you get answers. These answers can cost you a year or more of tuition.

Another thing for a SUNY CC student going to a SUNY 4 year college to keep in mind is that your gen ed requirements AREN'T automatically waived even if you have completed your 2 year degree. (This is a terrible policy, but it exists so you should know.) Ask the admissions office to run your credits through their gen ed to see how much if any you will need to complete. I have seen students who are done and students who have to almost start from scratch.

Good luck! It is too bad that SUNY does such a poor job with this, but a persistent student can get answers and in the end an excellent education combining SUNY CCs and 4 years.
 
Erinna --

The example of not teaching composition was in reference to a prospective math major, dealing with a math department. I assumed that most math departments don't teach composition.
 
Regarding what Anonymous 7:26 AM wrote about gen ed credits in the SUNY and SUNY-CC systems:

The student needs to check that ASAP, since the smart thing to do is to defer graduation until the end of summer and fill in a missing gen ed class or two during the summer - then graduate and transfer.

I was also surprised to read about that lack of articulation. The admins of the CC system should take a look at the solution they are developing in Michigan. If they can figure out how to do it in a totally decentralized system, SUNY ought to be able to do it.
 
I'm in charge of my department's transfer evaluations, and I would contest Dean Dad's rather cynical view that our department is out to re-teach as many classes as possible. I am happy to award transfer credit whenever possible, but my colleagues and I did put together a curriculum that tries to accomplish several objectives. Moreover, we have some outside pressures that we need to meet as well (e.g., our students need to pass the Praxis exam before they student-teach). As a result, sometimes students' courses don't all transfer - but when they want Shakespeare to stand in for the entire early modern period, I don't really have a problem saying no. That being said, our state has a set of articulation agreements so that students almost never lose general education credits.
 
DD's view is more nuanced -- it's not that any department is out to milk their students, it's that the monetary incentives often line up in that direction. We're all professionals, so it's very possible for us to do something which is academically appropriate but financially neutral or negative. But if we decide not to accept transfers, there is no financial counterbalance.
 
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