Chapter 21: Ease the Transfer Process among Public Institutions

Americans are a nation of movers, and inter-institutional academic migration is commonplace. In many cases it makes great sense: students save money by transferring to a cheaper school; students transfer to schools better suited to their changing interests; or students transfer to a less rigorous school if they are in danger of flunking out. In other cases, students simply complete a two-year program and transfer to a four-year school.

As mentioned earlier, colleges have historically put up obstacles to transfer, most importantly by denying a good deal of the academic credit earned at the previous institution. Most of the attention has been place upon transfers from two-year community colleges to four-year baccalaureate schools. Nearly as important numerically are the transfers within the respective categories of two and four-year schools. Pressures are increasing to ease credit transfer, in some cases prodded by legislative mandates requiring state institutions to accept credits from other institutions in the same state.

Bilateral “articulation agreements” between two schools, typically a community college and a four-year institution, have occurred a good deal over the years. Additionally, credit transfers can be made by multilateral agreements of all schools in a state, or a large portion of them. For example, North Carolina in 1995 mandated by legislation what is now called the Comprehensive Articulation Agreement to ease transfer of students from any state community college to a campus of the University of North Carolina. Some states have moved to trying to develop a common core curriculum that is widely accepted at many institutions, easing credit transfer issues for those courses. Still another approach is to adopt a common course numbering system, for example, the beginning course in microeconomics will be called “Economics 101” at all state institutions.

In addition to increasing competition between schools, the easing of the transfer process probably also reduces on balance the drop-out rates while increasing the rate of completion. Yet the issue is not entirely problem-free. There are qualitative issues, and it is common for community college transfers to drop out of four-year colleges at a greater rate than students already enrolled. Programmatic diversity potentially could be reduced if, in the name of ease of transfer, college curricula become standardized at a high level around the state, robbing institutions of their autonomy and perhaps their unique identity. Nonetheless, the benefits of low-cost transfer are sufficiently great that the move towards easing credit transfer needs to be continued.

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