Published on 2016/07/18

Understanding and Overcoming Common Barriers to Transfer

The EvoLLLution | Understanding and Overcoming Common Barriers to Transfer
While transfer pathways are more codified in Florida than in other states, there are still significant obstacles creating challenges for both students and colleges that need to be overcome.

In Florida, student transfer is facilitated by a statewide 2+2 guarantee that enables any Associate in Arts (AA) graduate from a Florida College System institution to be admitted to a baccalaureate degree program at a state university or Florida College System institution. This 2+2 guarantee has been in place for decades and it is a well known mechanism for students entering a state college like Miami Dade.

There are challenges, but they are more nuanced than in other states that do not have a similar statewide policy.

One such challenge is that of the guarantee itself. It guarantees admission to a state university but not necessarily the university that is the student’s first choice. It also does not guarantee admission to the student’s program of interest. This means that a student may have to “shop” for a university and program that will accept them.

Another challenge is when a university has additional admission criteria or the admission criteria for the student’s program of interest are unclear or change. In addition to the 2+2, Florida has a policy whereby common lower-level courses are identified for each baccalaureate degree offered by public institutions in the state. These common prerequisite courses lay the foundation for students to prepare for upper-division coursework within a program of interest. The policy is supposed to work so that the student who completes the AA degree and the common prerequisites is as ready to enter the upper-division of a baccalaureate program as a student native to the university. Unfortunately, some state universities have additional criteria or hidden requirements that hinder a student from being admitted or add to the number of courses a student has to complete to graduate.

Lastly, the Associate in Science degree (AS) has recently undergone revisions to put it on par with an AA degree in terms of transferability. In the past, the AS was considered terminal but now it is considered a degree that is fully transferable to a related baccalaureate degree. Unfortunately, not everyone is in agreement about the viability of the AS transfer option and some state universities are not admitting transfer students with AS degrees.

The Negative Impacts of Transfer Roadblocks on Students and Colleges

These roadblocks can discourage students and may thwart enrollment beyond the associate degree. Students who follow their program of study with the intent to transfer should have an assurance that there will be a spot for them at a state university when they successfully complete the associate degree. It should also guarantee admission to the program they have prepared to enter. Without these assurances, the student may lose interest and motivation to complete the Associate in Arts degree which is considered primarily a transfer degree.

Even when admitted to a university, transfer students may face additional hurdles in being admitted to their program of interest. Some universities have additional program admission criteria beyond the state transfer policy that are not always clearly advertised or communicated. Requiring additional coursework or specific courses may result in transfer students accumulating excess credit hours beyond the total number of credits required for the degree program. This is problematic due to the state policy requiring university students to pay an excess hour fee surcharge when their total credit hours exceed a specified threshold.

These roadblocks also negatively impact colleges in a number of ways. For one, students may not have a strong incentive to complete their associate degree if they know admission to the baccalaureate degree program they are interested in pursuing is out of reach. This negatively impacts the college when it comes to accountability and performance metrics. It could also negatively impact performance funding metrics that count transfer as a success.

It can also damage the reputation of the college in terms of public perception. If college graduates are not able to get into the university in close proximity, community members may start to question the integrity or quality of the college education. This is particularly true when university faculty and administrators comment that community college transfer students are not as prepared as university native students. This persistent misconception about community college transfers results in an ongoing battle by community college faculty and administrators to defend the rigor and quality of the associate degree.

The State Must Push for Successful Transfer

State governments can establish strong and clear policies that provide the framework for successful transfer. They can also incentivize state universities to be receptive to community college transfers and treat them as they would native students. The universities need to understand the benefits of opening their doors to community college transfers, including the data that show transfers do just as well if not better than native students.

It would also help to have a mechanism to hold universities accountable to the policies in place that facilitate 2+2 transfer.

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