Posted on Tuesday, March 26, 2019

“Meeting face-to-face for a whole day made a tremendous difference,” said Patricia Parker, project director for Transfer Virginia.

Parker says she was thrilled at the enthusiasm and commitment she witnessed when 250 educators from more than 60 Virginia institutions gathered in Staunton March 15 for a “Call to Action” to improve the transfer process for students navigating the often complex opportunities between the two-year colleges and Virginia’s senior institutions.

Barriers that hamper successful transfer did not pop-up overnight; instead they developed as colleges sought to help different pockets of students.

“We have very independent and different universities, and over the years they developed different articulation agreements with individual community colleges,” said Sharon Morrissey, VCCS’s senior vice chancellor for academic and workforce programs. “Those differences have become a huge issue for students.”

The fact is that most students who enter community college with the intent to transfer to a four-year school fail to earn their bachelor’s degrees.

Families could save thousands of dollars if students would earn their associates degree at a community college before making the transfer. But many fail to do so, or end up taking courses for which they don’t get full credit at the senior college, and end up paying for an extra semester of college.

Virginia lawmakers took note of the issue and in 2018 mandated reforms, which gave rise to Transfer Virginia.

“The problems are complex and hard to solve,” added Parker, “there is so much going on in higher education right now, everyone is suffering from some level of ‘initiative fatigue.’ But what I heard in Staunton is that it is the right time and right thing to do – I heard real commitment to believing in the ‘we can’ make transfer work better for Virginia.”

“You may have faculty members at a university who think that the community college courses are not up to their standards,” said Morrissey. “And then you put them in a room together and they start sharing. They talk about their syllabus, about the textbooks they use, about the learning outcomes in their courses. And the university faculty realize that the community college faculty really are on top of their game. The Community College faculty may tweak their courses a little bit to make them align better with the university courses. So that’s where the magic happens.”

“It’s not just the people in this room,” said Joe DeFilippo, director of academic affairs and planning at the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV). “We speak to the presidents of the colleges and they endorse this effort. They see the problem, too, and they want transfer students to be more successful. So this is really a bottom all the way up to the top commitment.”

Reflecting the scope of the challenge, Transfer Virginia is a commitment to change, with goals including:

• Improved communication and collaboration among institutions of higher education
• Better alignment of academic expectations at two-year and four-year schools
• Development of clear pathways to help guide students from high school through higher education, with degree attainment as the goal
• Streamlined transfer and improved guaranteed admission agreements
• Development of an online transfer portal to serve all students

“It’s critically important to remember that the changes you make at the institutional level and statewide in Virginia can have a positive impact on students in the real world,” said Josh Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program, one of the partners in Transfer Virginia. “Research shows that the size, location, and wealth of your community college do not predict transfer success. What does matter are the concrete actions leaders, policymakers, and practitioners take on behalf of students.”
“We’ve got a lot of work to do before we can even think about implementation,” said Parker. “I think we need the next year to resolve foundational pieces like course development, transfer guidelines, articulation maps – certainly with implementation in mind. The hope is by next spring we’ll have the structures and foundations developed and be ready to come back together and focus on implementation.”'

Jim Babb

Jim Babb works for Virginia's Community Colleges in the Office of Strategic Communications.

1 Comment

  1. ?

    Elizabeth Harris

    What follows is my OPINION – and students need to know all of their options. The challenge of advising for community college instructors is very different from the same role in a senior institution. We are advising students before they have definitely been enrolled in a four-year school and we may be trying to help them figure out the best course selection for several colleges as they do not know where they will finally attend. I find that many community college instructors do not know the difference between a degree REQUIREMENT and a course that simply transfers as an elective to a four-year institution. It is essential to advise students to start from the end backwards and take classes that meet four-year degree requirements because if students do not, they will still end up taking at least one or more extra semesters. In addition, not taking degree requirements for future courses mean they often have not met the pre-requisites. Why are some degree programs requiring students to take courses they will not need for future degrees – in at least one case three extra classes beyond what is needed at any Virginia college for general education requirements? What that means is that the students in that program will likely not have room to take the other courses that would be more useful for future majors in that pathway or pre-requisites for other Junior and Senior level courses. Students could also use those “extra” courses to complete lower level requirements for a future double major. Transferring is tricky and word gets around quickly when students have to take classes for a degree program at a community college that they find out later are only general electives once they transfer and that they could have spent the time and money more usefully. It is so important to pick the correct degree program for the future major, and for many of our students the General Studies degree is most valuable as they can tailor that degree to the requirements of one or more future four-year colleges. I’m so glad community colleges are beginning to think seriously about the transfer process. We also need to encourage motivated students, especially motivated adults who wish to finish a degree quickly. to think about studying independently and earning credit through CLEP and DSST exams. Not every college in Virginia takes CLEP exam results for credit, but the large majority of the colleges to which community college students transfer do take CLEP and DSST credits. Study materials are easily available at Modern States (for CLEP – and free) and on Students can take examinations and earn an entire year of college at low cost and pretty quickly through credit by examination. In several cases Junior (300) Junior level credit is awarded for a successful score on CLEP and/or DSST exams. Again – the student needs to make that decision in light of the transfer college and see which exam scores are accepted there as well as at the local community college.


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