Transfer Articulation Takes Off In Connecticut
Two decades ago, the United States had the highest percentage of adults with a college degree in the world. The educational attainment level of our citizens was a sign of economic productivity and innovation, social stability, and individuals’ upward mobility. Today, we are no better than 14th in the world on this important measure.
We haven’t slid—in fact the percentage of Americans with a two- or four-year college degree has increased three percentage points since 2000—but other countries like Korea and Finland, among others, have mimicked and now surpassed our success. In response, the College Board has issued a call to increase the percentage of Americans with a two- or four-year college degree from the current figure of 41 percent to 55 percent by 2025. The Obama Administration has advanced similar goals.
This national commitment responds to the economic realities in my own state of Connecticut. The Center for Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University projects that 68 percent of the jobs in Connecticut over the next 10 years will require at least a two-year college degree.
The simple reality is that we will not meet our national goals nor our statewide needs for an educated workforce with the current output of our public higher education system. We need more students to attend and graduate from our community colleges and from our four-year schools. Part of that equation is to successfully transfer more students from community colleges to our four state universities so that they can complete their four-year degrees and enter the workforce.
The Teachers College at Columbia University says that 80 percent of the approximately eight million community college students in our country intend to eventually enroll at a four-year school. However, less than a third of them actually end up transferring to a four-year institution, and only 17 percent earn their bachelor’s degree. In the words of the Columbia University researchers, “The largest barrier to completion for community college students was loss of credits upon transfer.”
A program that provides and supports clearer academic pathways for community college students transferring to senior institutions not only benefits those students and the community colleges where they begin their college careers. The four-year receiving institutions also benefit. For one thing, students transferring into a university with a clear career path are motivated, goal-oriented, and come to campus halfway home towards completing their degree. At Eastern, we call them “good bets” because we know most if not all will graduate. In addition, because their educational journeys are often complex transfer students bring new experiences and new perspectives to classroom discussions. Finally, in a time when high school graduating classes are declining, having a steady stream of new strong enrollments is good for institutional financial stability.
How can we encourage more community college students to transfer to a four-year institution? How can we improve their chances of success? Among Connecticut’s system of 17 public community colleges and state universities, we have been hard at the task of responding to the challenge.
In 2011, the state of Connecticut merged the 16 community colleges and the four state universities, along with Charter Oak College—the state’s online institution—to create a system of 17 public state colleges and universities. This merger gave policymakers the opportunity to dramatically improve the ability of community college students to seamlessly transfer their credits to one of the four state universities.
The Transfer Articulation Program (TAP) that was launched in 2012 sought to remove barriers community college students have faced in attempting to transfer credits. In the past, community college students seeking to transfer their credits have too often been forced to endure a course-by-course review of their community college courses, even after they have completed an associate’s degree. University faculty have frequently argued that community college courses lacked rigor or did not address the same competencies as their own courses. The result has too often been that community college students transferring to a four-year institution have had to retake classes, delaying graduation and forcing them to incur additional expenses. In other instances, credits from core courses have transferred only as electives, delaying a student’s timely completion of degree requirements. These barriers have put community college transfer students at a huge disadvantage in attempting to complete their four-year degrees.
The TAP program in Connecticut has been developed from day one with faculty leadership—more than 300 faculty across our state system have participated in taskforces to date. The program received a new injection of energy and focus with the hiring of two full-time faculty coordinators in August 2014. Today, the TAP project is moving ahead quickly, and is grounded in four basic components:
- A 30- to 33-credit general education core of courses from a diverse set of disciplines is competency-based, meets accreditation standards and prepares community college students for success at senior institutions;
- The other 30 credits toward an associate degree are earned by taking one of a growing number of “pre-major” pathways;
- Completion of an associate degree means that students transfer their entire 60 credits as a block; and
- Students transferring a “pathways” degree enter one of our four state universities as juniors with a clear plan for timely completion of a bachelor’s degree in their chosen major.
By codifying this approach (general education core plus pre-major pathway equals transferable associate’s degree) at a statewide, system level, Connecticut students now know that there is a clear and direct path from high school to community college to state university in their career of choice. They can pursue a pre-major pathway at any of our 16 community colleges and transfer to complete their bachelor’s degree at any of our four state universities.
The biology pre-major pathway was approved by the Board of Regents in December 2015. Ten additional pathways are being readied for spring 2016 board approval, including history, chemistry, communication, criminology, English, mathematics, political science, psychology, social work and sociology. Fifteen more pathway areas have already been identified as the next group for consideration. In addition, health sciences, nursing, applied manufacturing, new media studies and other technical careers also hold promise for future pathway development.
As the Board of Regents continues to approve career pathways for community college students, we anticipate more of those students will transfer to a state university and obtain their bachelor’s degrees. The success in Connecticut reflects similar progress being made in Florida, Washington, New Jersey and California. Given national demographics and the workforce needs of the 21st century, more community college and university transfer collaborations across America are needed in the future. Our state and national economies depend on it.
Author Perspective: Administrator