Monday, March 04, 2019

Consumer Tip

A couple of days ago I had a conversation with someone who knows higher education well.  She asked about things that parents of prospective community college students should know.  When I mentioned in passing that “of course, students who want to transfer should be sure to check in with the transfer counselor as early as possible,” she stopped me and asked what that was.  

If she didn’t know, i’m guessing most people don’t.  So in the spirit of “news you can use,” a quick word about transfer counselors.

In parts of the country with relatively high concentrations of four-year colleges, a given community college might send students on to several different places.  For example, at Holyoke we regularly sent students to UMass-Amherst, Westfield State, Elms, Springfield College, Mount Holyoke, and Western New England University, among others.  Each of those schools had different areas of strength, different expectations for transfer students, different requirements, and different financial models. At Morris, we sent students to Ramapo, William Paterson, College of St. Elizabeth, Rutgers, Drew, and Cornell, among others; the same principle held.

Multiply all of those destination schools (and many more) by the panoply of degree options available, add articulation agreements and (shifting) statewide transfer policies, and it would be easy for the average student to get lost.  If I’m starting at my local community college with the intention of transferring on for a bachelor’s degree in, say, business, how do I know what to take to ensure full transfer of credit?

That’s where the transfer counselor comes in.

These are the folks whose job it is to stay on top of those details, and to communicate them to students in useful ways.  They know whether a given school has a foreign language requirement, for instance, or which math class fits which business program.  They also know who to talk to at various schools to appeal negative transfer decisions, what the requirements are for transfer scholarships at various places (and that such things exist!), and what the most common choke points are for students trying to move on.  

For example, most of our destination schools here have a ‘diversity’ course requirement.  In most cases, a course on, say, African-American history would fulfill both a diversity requirement and a history requirement.  But Rutgers specifically disallows counting the same course in two categories at the same time, so if you use that class for diversity, you have to use another class for history, and vice versa.  A Brookdale student who’s targeting Rutgers is better off knowing that early, so she can use an elective slot in her program to take the extra class with us, at our lower tuition rate.

Statewide transfer agreements help, but they have limits.  Typically they cover the gen ed classes, but not the classes in the major.  (And even the gen ed coverage is imperfect.) And with each four-year college having material differences from all of the others, we can’t possibly do a perfect mirror of the first two years of all of them.  A few years ago I heard the president of the Maricopa system talk about the success they’ve had mirroring the first two years of curricula at ASU. I was impressed, but part of the reason Maricopa could do that was that over 90 percent of the students who transfer on from there go to ASU.  When you have a single target, it’s easier to aim. We’re in a target-rich environment.

A good transfer counselor can turn that target-rich environment from an intimidating dilemma into a wealth of opportunity, if you know she exists.  So this week’s consumer tip: find the transfer counselor early. You’ll save money, time, and frustration.