Even as thousands of University of Connecticut students choose to take some of their courses at a community college or other universities, officials are proposing to limit the number of transfer credits students can use toward their degree.
“If you come to UConn you should take most of your credits here,” UConn’s Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Sally Reis said during an interview this week.
Students who enroll now at UConn as freshmen are able to take up to 90 credits at another school and use that credit toward their degree. The proposal being considered would limit the number students can transfer to 30 credits, of which no more than 15 credits can be general education courses. UConn students typically need 120 credits to graduate.
The proposal would have no effect on credits earned by students while in high school Advanced Placement courses or study abroad programs or students who transfer from other colleges during their sophomore or junior years.
The student government does not plan to support the plan.
“There will be students affected by this,” said John Giardina, chief of staff of the Undergraduate Student Government and a senior studying economics. “This will raise the value [of a UConn degree] without impacting too much the ability of UConn students to get a degree. That’s not to say we support this proposal… The new policy will toe a line on accessibility.”
In last year's senior class, one in 25 students had taken more than 36 credits at other schools during their time at UConn, officials report. More than 200 students -- one in 10 seniors -- had transferred in more than 15 credits from other schools for their UConn degree.
The top five schools UConn students are taking courses at are all community colleges, which account for 40 percent of the courses taken elsewhere by last year's seniors.
Value of a UConn degree
University officials have expressed several reasons for the proposed change; including preserving the value of a UConn degree and ensuring that students learn the necessary material for the higher-level courses they will have to eventually take.
“Many of our students are taking easier and cheaper classes elsewhere, and our data trends suggest that if they take a pre-requisite at a community college, they often fail the subsequent courses they take here at UConn,” reads a memo from Reis and UConn's vice president for enrollment.
The community colleges heavily depend on these transfer students to fill their classrooms. For example UConn's seniors last year took 2,023 credits at Norwalk Community College and 853 credits at Manchester Community College and 845 credits at Naugutuck Community College.
“The pattern of migration still highlights the need for credits to transfer seamlessly not just from 2-year institutions to 4-year institutions but also the other direction,” a data bulletin from the Board of Regents from February 2012 reads. “More students transferred into the community colleges than transferred out of them.”
But Gerald Gianutsos, a professor of pharmacology and chair of the University Senate’s Scholastic Standards Committee, said that there needs to be a difference between a degree earned at UConn and elsewhere.
“You shouldn’t be able to take a whole bunch of courses over the summer and call yourself a UConn graduate,” he said during an interview. “We don’t have the quality control over another college's courses.”
Some students also may be electing to take courses elsewhere because of cost, as tuition at the community colleges is much cheaper than UConn. For example, a Connecticut resident would have to pay $1,158 to take a three credit course at UConn while a similiar course at a community college would cost $507.
“Transferring credits is an important component of affordability, which is why the Board of Regents is moving to implement a plan across our 17 [community colleges and state universities] to ensure that students are taking the right courses toward their degree or certification – and that all of those credits count,” Juliet Manalan, a spokeswoman for the community college system, said in a statement.
“The state colleges and universities have a unique and valuable mission in Connecticut – to keep high-quality education accessible and affordable, and make certain students leave school ready to compete in the 21st century job market,” Manalan said.
The editorial board of the Daily Campus, the student newspaper, opposes the credit transfer proposal.
“It is great that UConn is making the effort to better itself, but the improvements should benefit students and the state, not just the image [of] the school… Adding restrictions and regulations won’t make a UConn degree more prestigious. Instead, it will add yet another layer of bureaucracy to an already complicated system and make it harder for students, even deserving ones, to earn their degree,” the Daily Campus wrote earlier this month.
Philip Jones, a member of the student government’s Academic Affairs committee, was more blunt.
“It feels like the administration is focusing more on becoming elite instead of focusing on getting the best education possible for the most Connecticut residents,” he told the Daily Campus this month.
But Reis, UConn’s vice provost for academic affairs, disagrees.
“I don’t think that it is elitist. I think this is what good universities do,” she said. “We are closing a loophole.”
UConn lists eight research universities across the country as their “peer institutions.” Of the four universities reached Tuesday about on their transfer policies, none placed limits on how many credits students could transfer.
“A lot of our students are joint enrolled. We have a great community college system, and we know that cost is an issue. We are all for supporting graduation in four years or less,” said Emil Rinderspacher, director of admissions at the University of Iowa. “Of course there are some departments that have that elitist thinking of, ‘No one can teach it like we can.’”
At The Ohio State University and Iowa State, there are no limits on transfer credits, but students must complete their last year of courses at the school.
While there is no limit to the number of credits University of Missouri students can transfer from other schools, a student's program must approve the course, and preapproval is recommended.
UConn’s proposal doesn’t seek to place them among their peers.
“Most aspirant institutions severely limit the number of transfer credits… We seek to have a similar but more generous policy,” reads the UConn memo on the proposal.
The memo outlines transfer policies at Northwestern University, Duke and Dartmouth -– schools that are more highly ranked on the U.S. News and World Reports annual rankings.
The proposal for UConn is expected to be voted on soon by the University Senate, which predominantly consists of UConn faculty. The Board of Trustees, the system’s governing board, does not need to approve this change, said Reis.