published Sunday, February 7th, 2010

Transfers of college credits still uncertain

Talking about easing the transition from two- to four-year colleges is easier than actually doing it, educators are finding.

Dr. Matt Greenwell, head of the art department at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, says his curriculum and standards for enrollment work and won't change despite a new law that would let students with two-year associate degrees transfer to universities as juniors.

"Our concern is not about quality. It's about the nature of the content and how it feeds into our level of coursework," Dr. Greenwell said.

For years, he has resisted pressure to admit community college students into UTC's art program unless they retake some classes.

"I think the biggest misunderstanding we confront is that we are trying to be elitist or insensitive. There is a holier-than-thou perspective that is not true," he said.

Plus, art students don't lose any credits from community college. Even if they don't count toward pre-major requirements, they can be used as electives, Dr. Greenwell said.

An average student who enters UTC as a freshman will graduate with 126 hours, while a transfer student must take an additional 20 hours to graduate, according to records from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. This is true of almost all universities, THEC records show.

Dr. Greenwell's position is the case-in-point for state and community college leaders who say that -- despite transfer agreements signed over dozens of years between two-year and four-year colleges -- tenured faculty at four-year schools still decide what credits count toward specific majors.

"This has cost the taxpayers of the state of Tennessee an enormous amount of money," said Chattanooga State Community College President Jim Catanzaro. "It has delayed and impeded graduation, and it doesn't make sense."

Getting into majors

In special session last month, the General Assembly attempted to treat the problem by setting a statewide 41-hour general education core. Colleges and universities must offer the same 19 hours of pre-major requirements.

This block of general education courses now is accepted widely, but confusion remains about the transfer of pre-major requirements in individual areas of study.

Many more transfer agreements must be made before all students can expect simple movement from community colleges to universities, officials said.

The pre-major requirements now must be agreed to on an institution-by-institution basis, said David Wright, assistant executive director of policy, planning and research at THEC. "As much as we can get these repetitive things out the way, we want to do that."

THEC recently convened officials and faculty from the University of Tennessee system and the Tennessee Board of Regents to hammer out common pre-major requirements for business degrees. They plan to do the same for all other majors, Mr. Wright said.

Common pre-major requirements for other popular majors such as psychology and communications will be discussed next, officials said. Then the pre-major requirements for all other areas of study will be debated.

TRANSFER SNAPSHOT

* Nineteen percent of Tennessee college students transfer.

* Fifty percent of Tennessee public college transfer students were from community colleges.

* Forty percent of transfer students graduate within six years.

* Thirty-one percent of students who stay at the same school graduate within six years.

Source: THEC 2009 Annual Report on Articulation and Transfer

WHAT GOV. PHIL BREDESEN WANTS

* Students should be able to transfer their associate of arts and associate of science degrees earned at a Tennessee community college to any Tennessee four-year universities without loss of any credits.

* Students transferring with associate degrees should have junior level status at four-year universities.

* Students should be able to earn a 41-credit hour General Education Transfer Certificate, which should transfer to any four-year college.

* Any of the courses that are part of the general education distribution core should transfer to any four-year college.

* Students should be enrolled in a degree program but may choose to transfer to a four-year college after completing a set of courses or the certificate.

* The transferability of all courses and programs should be clearly designated and communicated.

* Dual admission and dual enrollment to community colleges and four-year universities should be widely available for students intending to transfer.

Source: Complete College Tennessee

"The problem is much more difficult than has often been characterized," said UTC Provost Phil Oldham. "There is a lot of work that has to go into resolving all these technical issues. At least 95 percent are solvable. It just takes time to do."

Chattanooga State has pointed to UTC's transfer requirements for art students as the prime example of university obstinance. But UTC officials say transfer students must enter as sophomores instead of juniors because all art students are subject to a sophomore-portfolio review.

The sophomore-portfolio review is a national standard for any competitive art program, Dr. Oldham said.

"If you want to study art, you probably need to start at a four-year institution," he said.

Moving toward the goal

UTC's art requirements show that clear transfer agreements don't ensure admittance into a particular major at a college.

"We will see the same issues on some campuses for getting into business programs," Dr. Oldham said. "Just because you can translate the general education requirements doesn't guarantee you admission to any program, particularly competitive programs."

Still, Dr. Catanzaro said he hopes the new law forces universities to receive all community college students as full-fledged juniors who can graduate with only four more semesters.

"All courses that are specific to a major, if they are not general education courses, should be offered only in junior and senior years at universities," he said. "If they aren't accepting students, that is against the spirit and intention of the law."

about Joan Garrett McClane...

Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...

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timoshenko said...

Unfortunately, there is a much larger problem here. When it comes to helping students transfer to the four-year school, a community college must accept its role as a SERVICE institution. Many community college faculty and administrators have taken the view that they, not the four-year schools, are the best judges of what a student should take for the first two years before transferring. So the course content for a chemistry or math class at a community college might just not quite match up to its university "equivalent"---even those with the same course number and description. It is important to remember that nearly every institution of higher learning aspires to move up in classification and importance---regardless of its mandated mission. The problem is not entirely one-sided as the universities do not take the time to actually work with faculty counterparts at the community colleges. When the "working together" takes place largely at TBR/UT/THEC levels, the opportunity is missed. Regardless of the sense of this article, quality remains an issue. It's just probably too tough to begin to tackle.

February 22, 2010 at 6:14 p.m.
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