Tuesday, November 17, 2015


Guided Pathways for Transfer

Last year I caught a presentation by some folks from the Maricopa County Community College District (Phoenix, AZ) on a transfer partnership they had developed with Arizona State University.  With nearly every transfer student aiming at the same destination college, it was relatively easy to design curricula for the first two years.  (That’s not to demean the effort involved; it’s just to say the target was clear.)  

I was jealous.  That kind of clarity wasn’t possible at Holyoke, and it isn’t possible at Brookdale.  That’s because in both places, students had many more options for destination colleges, and the destination colleges didn’t agree with each other.  When the destination schools disagree on what should go into the first two years, who are we supposed to imitate?

Loss of credits upon transfer is a massive barrier to degree completion, for obvious reasons.  It forces students to spend time and money retaking classes they’ve already taken.  It’s also incredibly demoralizing.  Students feel ripped off, either by the destination college or the sending one, and feeling like a chump doesn’t often inspire greatness.  

When the loss of credits in transfer occurs between public institutions -- say, a community college and a state university -- taxpayers wind up paying twice for the same courses.  It’s a huge issue for students, but not only for students.  Everyone winds up paying for it, except maybe for the destination school.

Yet in the public discussion of transfer -- to the extent that it exists -- most of the blame for “wasted” credits is aimed at community colleges.  

To some degree, any region with a healthy population of private colleges and universities will have to deal with this no matter what.  Private institutions can define curricula pretty much as they see fit, within the confines of state licensing regs and accreditation criteria.  But it seems like the public institutions should be more subject to public authority.  

This week I was in the umpteenth meeting in which discussions of possible changes to curricula led to the inevitable “but will it transfer?,” answered with the inevitable “well, yes and no.”  “Yes and no” is not a satisfying answer.

Put differently, four-year publics need to be required to create “guided pathways” for community college transfer.  That means keeping their own curricula in relative check, and vetoing departmental efforts to go rogue and construct idiosyncratic requirements to avoid “giving away” credits (or, in what amounts to the same thing, relegating them to “free elective” status).  The easiest way, I think, would be to cap at sixty the number of credits that a destination school could require of someone with an associate’s degree.  Let the four-year college departments fight out which sixty credits they can require; I have no dog in that fight.  But allowing the people with the greatest conflict of interest nearly unfettered discretion to double-dip is not okay.  It’s a disservice to the students and the taxpayers.

Have any states actually tried that?  I’d be interested in hearing about unintended consequences and/or workarounds.  Alternately, for folks at public four-years, can you foresee unintended consequences and/or workarounds?

California is currently creating the UC transfer pathways: http://admission.universityofcalifornia.edu/transfer/preparation-paths/
which reduce the articulation problem enormously.

Previously there were individual agreements between the 9 UC campuses, 23 CSU campuses and the 113 community colleges, making for potentially (9+23)*113 = 3616 different articulation pairs. Now, for 10 of the most popular majors, there are agreed-on targets that only need to articulated from each side, making 9+23+113 articulations. Furthermore, there is pressure on each campus to accept the agreed-on transfer pathway, so the articulations are very likely to happen.

This is a new system for California, but (so far) it looks promising.
The public univ where I teach has clear course-by-course equivalences posted on-line. These include listings at a local CC. As an advisor I've noticed that it isn't rare for a student to do single courses there to replace 1 or 2 of our courses. (I don't know if that is enough to count as reverse transfer.)

I have one concern about a 60 credit limit: engineering students. The students in our program take 15-18 credits per semester in years 3 and 4, in the "regular" schedule, and that is after 12 credits of engineering courses in the sophomore year that I don't think are available at cc's. I don't think that there are enough gen eds that remain in those years to get the total down to 60 credits.

We have had students try to finish an engineering degree in 2 years after taking courses at the CC for two years. The outcomes are about as pretty as you may expect for students who enter junior year engineering courses while taking the sophomore-level prereqs simultaneously or afterwards. Students who accept the presence of the course constraints in advance end up doing a bit better, though it does cost another year.

(I still have not worked to understand the processes that prevent these CC students from taking 1 key course at our site each semester, rather than a gen ed at the CC, so they don't lose that year.)
Florida has had that kind of system for about 50 years.

There is a common course numbering system for any class taught at a public college or university, so there is no question about whether a particular course will transfer. It is all defined at the state level. This is not to say that you can't create a new course, but you can only do so if it is clearly different because minor variations with the course description are allowed. Some private universities also use it or articulate with it and the gen-ed rules, because of market pressure to get access to CC transfer students.

There is also a state-wide definition for general education content (made easier by the common course numbers) and a mandate that universities accept an AA (and its 60 credits) as meeting the general education requirements at that university. Transfer without an AA and you must meet the catalog requirements of the university (quite possibly losing many credits and maybe even having to take a duplicate, locally required special gen-ed course that no one else teaches). Transfer with an AA and you are a junior with 60 credits, but you will lose any credits you have that are in excess of 60.

(This does create several problems of the type that GSwoP and I have discussed in this forum over the years. It is not optimal for STEM majors where a student really should be admitted to the major by the middle of the sophomore year and using gen ed class to maintain sanity as a junior and senior. However, the alternative is often worse. How does a CC offer five different versions of freshmen comp to meet the idiosyncratic requirements at five transfer schools?)

Although it has evolved over the decades, it still reflects a vision they had for the CC system when it was being created (incorporating some segregated junior colleges once they were merged and integrated) along with the creation of some new universities that were upper-divison only. There were once several universities that had no freshmen or sophomores. That aspect of the system required seamless transfer from any one of many CCs, hence the imposition of the common course system on both sides of the divide.

I'm sure it could not have been easy, but it had to be a lot easier in 1965 than it would be today. Other places that have done this more recently (there are several) usually set up a state-wide set of gen-ed rules and require everyone to define what fits in it from their curriculum and to accept it (as a whole) from any other state institution's curriculum.
Maryland has done a great job of working with the community colleges and the state system 4 year schools (both traditional and non-trad). If you graduate from a MD community college with an associate's degree then your credits transfer as a block. Most actually go course for course. Very minute credit loss if any. And guaranteed acceptance helps too. UMUC also does reverse transfer (piloted it in the state) which helps the graduation rate at the CC's.

At the private level, some places are creating their own credit transfer system like ARTSYS. So, you can do your own evaluation. And articulations at the program level. Not always pretty but it works.
similar to what was posted about Maryland, North Carolina has a Comprehensive Articulation Agreement governing transfer credits between NC community colleges and the NC public universities:

Texas has a process similar to the one CCPhysicist described in Florida.
There is a Core Curriculum (42 hours) composed of nine subcategories, each with a given number of credit hours and a pick-list of courses that fulfill those requirements. If a student earns all the required credits in a subcategory, they cannot be required to "repeat" a course that meets the same requirement. That being said, a Microbiology major can't claim Geology as their Natural Science core and expect to not be required to take Biology.
The workaround universities have developed is to design degree plans with departmental specific, non-gen ed courses in the freshman year that are prerequisites for admission into the "actual" major while scattering Core Curriculum courses (U.S. History, Humanities, etc) that are typically attempted en mass by freshmen into the junior and senior year. What this does is essentially punish transfer students who *think* they are clearing out the first year or two of degree requirements when in reality they'll still be at the university for four years (three, minimum) playing catch-up in courses "native freshmen" had a year or two earlier.

One reason it's easy in Phoenix is that there are essentially no other four-year options that are not for-profit in the entire metropolitan area. Arizona is a state that cares little for education, has underfunded both K-12 and higher education so badly that the majority of Arizona's residents are poorly educated as compared with other states. ASU is a gargantuan mess: it takes in far too many students and long ago should have been split into a number of smaller, more manageable universities.
I've been away from it for a while, but, in Indiana, the higher education commission required that a specific set of courses offered at Ivy Tech (the statewide community college, so the 4-years are all dealing with only one 2-year) be directly transferable, for credit, applicable to specific gen ed requirements or to program requirements (at least to the public 4-year institutions). It took a while to set up the mechanisms, and there was a lot of resistance. How it's working these days, someone still active in the system might want to address.
Oregon also has a common course numbering system used by the public schools at both the CCs and the 4-years. I don't know how well it works outside of math, but I've never heard of a problem with getting lower-division math classes taken at a CC to transfer to a 4-year public, and I've heard of plenty of cases of students at the 4-year schools choosing to take just one math class at a CC as a non-degree-seeker while enrolled at the 4-year for schedule reasons (particularly choosing to take it over the summer or in the evening) or to get a smaller class taught by a "real" professor rather than a graduate student and/or a giant lecture.

Texas has a system, but it still takes some navigating. http://northwest.hccs.edu/students/transfers/ - this CC has info on transferring credit to 27 different local universities (public and private) and encourages students to TRANSFER BACK up to 42 hours earned within 3 years of leaving the CC to finish an associates degree. I'll bet that helps their official completion rate quite a bit.
North of the Border, British Columbia has a clearly run articulation system.

It is run at the provincial (state) level and the BC council on Admission and transfer is charged with maintaining a database of articulations, defining the process of articulation and ensuring that subject level articulation committees consisting of representatives from all senders and receivers (private and public).

This doesn't mean that there aren't issues. Transfers tend to be cleanest with the receiving university that is closest to a given sending institution, but it is at least very clear what will and won't transfer to meet your degree requirements where you want to go.

Specialized fields like Engineering don't transfer well, unless you are in an engineering transfer program and even those tend to work only as bilateral agreements rather than system agreements.

Here's the leading organization: bccat.bc.ca

And the transfer articulation tables: bctransferguide.ca

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