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The Broad, Significant and Shared Benefits of Committing to Transfer

The EvoLLLution | The Broad, Significant and Shared Benefits of Committing to Transfer
Broad and robust articulation agreements between four-year and two-year institutions present a number of benefits both for institutions and students while also supporting state and national completion goals.

In the United States, the ecosystem can be challenging for students to navigate. Filled with two-year and four-year institutions that vary in price, focus, modality and more, finding the right institution can be tough. For students enrolled at two-year institutions, finding a pathway to a bachelor’s credential can be even harder. However, it’s a path worth travelling given the significant benefits of holding a four-year degree. While some institutions intentionally strive to make it tough to transfer, the majority of four-year colleges and universities across the US are searching for ways to facilitate more transfer and to recognize a broader array of credits. Of course, this work has been the bread-and-butter of completion colleges for years. In this interview, Shirley Adams reflects on the work it takes to forge and maintain successful articulation agreements, and shares her thoughts on the benefit of this work both for institutions and for students.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): What does it take to establish a successful articulation agreement partnership with two-year colleges?

Shirley Adams (SA): In Connecticut, we have a transfer pathway agreement between our community colleges, our four state universities, and Charter Oak State College. That Transfer and Articulation Program agreement was the result of legislation in 2012 and, while the majority of the transfer pathways have been finalized, it is still a work in progress. Charter Oak had both program and full college agreements in place with all of the twelve community colleges before the transfer pathway was mandated. For this article, I am going to talk about articulation agreements from Charter Oak’s perspective and about agreements outside our system, although many of the same principals apply.

To answer your question—it takes a lot of work to establish a successful articulation agreement partnership. We look to develop programmatic articulation agreements in areas of our strengths. Although we are a transfer-friendly institution, we look for colleges that have associate degrees that are aligned with our degrees, thus making the transfer seamless for the associate degree graduate. We look at articulation agreements as relationship building. A member of our admissions staff will reach out to a member of an admissions or transfer staff at the two-year college. That is followed by a visit to the campus. This visit could have been precipitated by us, by the two-year college, by one of our faculty, or even by one of our students. Before the visit, the admissions counselor will have checked to see what program will transfer easily, what the enrollment is like in the program, the graduation rate for the program and, if there is any special licensure, what the pass rate is. The result of the visit is usually a draft document showing how the courses will transfer to Charter Oak and what courses students have left to take, including what courses the students could still take at the two-year college once they matriculate at Charter Oak—thus reducing the cost of the education for the student and increasing the revenue for the two-year college. The course list, once approved, becomes part of the articulation agreement which also delineates the expectations of both the two-year college and Charter Oak.

Having a signed agreement is just the beginning of the partnership. Articulation agreements are not successful in a vacuum. Once the agreement is established, it takes both colleges to ensure that it is nurtured, updated and maintained. Both colleges need to have someone designated to ensure that this happens. In addition, it takes a strong academic advising support network at the two-year college to help the students navigate the articulation agreement. The faculty in the discipline of the agreement also need to promote the agreement to their students. Ideally, students receive a copy of the agreement on the day they enroll at the two-year college so they can begin making plans to complete their two-year degree and then to move right on to their four-year degree.

As part of the agreement, the two-year college has to agree to market the agreement to its students and it has to allow for us to market to its students, including holding transfer sessions on its campus or electronically on a regular basis.

Evo: Given the growth of online education, how does geography factor into the decision of whether or not to pursue an articulation agreement with any particular two-year college?

SA: First, one has to make sure that the college has approval to offer courses to students from the other state(s). We are a SARA college and we have articulation agreements in states that are not contiguous to Connecticut. Because we have a small staff, the farther the two-year college is from Connecticut, the more difficult it is for us to maintain that personal relationship with staff at the two-year college.

However, members of our admissions staff visit a number of the colleges outside of Connecticut where we have agreements and we also use teleconferencing to hold transfer sessions with other colleges. Using online chat applications and other technology also provides us with ways to keep connected with interested students.

Evo: What does it take, operationally, to manage a wide array of articulation agreements?

SA: The biggest challenge to maintaining a wide array of articulation agreements is keeping those agreements up-to-date as program requirements change. It requires both the sending and the receiving college to inform the other about any changes. And once the agreements are updated, it’s necessary to make the changes on any documents, marketing materials, and in the Student Information System (SIS). It also requires keeping up with changes in staff. As staff come and go, those relationships need to be rebuilt.

We don’t have a centralized process for articulation agreements, which makes it difficult to manage. On the other hand, it can work to our advantage. For example, the last articulation agreement we signed was started by a department head at our college and a department head at the two-year college who happened to meet at a conference. It was then turned over to our admissions person who worked with our registrar and staff at the two-year college. We had a formal signing where the relationship between the two colleges grew stronger and has resulted in another programmatic articulation agreement with that college.

Evo: How does committing to facilitating transfer pathways benefit the university?

SA: Since Charter Oak State College is a degree completion college, all of our students are “transfer” students. Having transfer pathways in place is part of our recruitment strategy. If we can establish a network of community colleges that sends us students, it cuts down on our recruitment costs.

We want adult students who have already demonstrated success at college. Because we have worked with the college in developing the articulation agreement, seen their curriculum, often met their instructors, and in most cases, already met some of their students, we know the quality of the program and the academic level of the students and that the students are capable of doing the work required to earn their four-year degree. A robust articulation agreement also benefits the two-year college because it validates their program(s).

Evo: How do students benefit from robust articulation agreement ecosystems between two-year and four-year institutions?

SA: For the adult students we work with, time-to-degree is extremely important. A robust articulation agreement by default is the shortest route to completing the degree. In addition to time, it saves them money. They are only paying for courses that they need to take. Students don’t have to worry about whether their courses will transfer or not. If students know they want to earn a four-year degree, the entire plan is laid out for them so they know the end point when they sign up for their first course at the two-year college.

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