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3 ways community colleges should be communicating credit articulation agreements

While many community college students intend to transfer to four-year programs, few ultimately do, and even fewer graduate with a bachelor’s degree.

Poor credit articulation is one major reason why. On average, students lose about 43 percent of their credits when transferring to a new institution. Additionally, credit transfer challenges result in $6 billion in unnecessarily spent tuition, increasing already-mounting student debt. To save transfer students time and money, community colleges must effectively communicate credit articulation agreements early on.

Even though community college leaders can’t control four-year institutions’ credit acceptance policies, they still have many options to provide their students with proactive and comprehensive support. Below, we profile three practices that community colleges should take to best support transfer students.

Establish concurrent admissions programs with local four-year institutions

Concurrent admissions programs admit students to both a community college and a partnering four-year institution simultaneously through a single initial application. By requiring only one application and ensuring credit alignment early, these programs save transfer students time and tuition money.

For example, the ADVANCE partnership between Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) and George Mason University clearly communicates the credit alignment between their respective associate’s and bachelor’s degrees through their online pathway calculator. Consider creating a similar tool to outline associate’s program milestones, degree-specific transfer requirements, and credit articulation agreements between the partnered institutions. Streamlining the admissions process between two-year and four-year programs helps students maximize their credit transfer opportunities by eliminating gaps between admissions requirements of these programs.

Create transfer pathway program map

To ease credit transfer, community colleges should outline transfer-specific scheduling menus and program maps, which recommend highly transferable courses that meet general and major-specific requirements. Then, even if students switch between specific programs, as they often do, they gain transferable credits that they can still apply toward their four-year degree. Optimized for transfer students, these menus must also indicate which courses partnering four-year institutions accept. This helps community college students make informed course selection decisions, based on both their major interests and transfer intentions.

Provide advising aligned with four-year goals

While intentionally created to help students transfer, articulation agreements often become quickly outdated and obsolete—due to lengthy development processes and frequent changes in degree requirements. Overburdened with large advising caseloads, two-year advisors often cannot keep up with these changes.

One way community colleges can ease the burden on advisors is to bring four-year institutions’ staff to campus as transfer concierges to help advise students on credit transfer and long-term goals. For example, The University of Toledo sends transfer specialists to Owens Community College as a part of their Rocket Express transfer program. The transfer specialist ensures that their community college advisees’ classes will apply to their intended degree at The University of Toledo. These staff members’ familiarity with specific four-year institutions ensures that students receive the most up-to-date information on credit transfer options.