CSCU travels bumpy road to smooth a path for student transfers

Students on campus at Manchester Community College

CT Mirror file photo

Students on campus at Manchester Community College

Three years after state legislators ordered the state’s largest public college system to set up a way for community college students to transfer to a regional Connecticut state university without losing credits, higher education officials report they can see the finish line.

The goal is to create, by the fall of 2016, a shared course catalogue and sequence of requirements for about 20 majors popular at the 17 schools that make up the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system. The system includes the four regional state universities, 12 community colleges and the online Charter Oak College.

Progress on the project has been hampered by its sheer scope and intricacy, faculty conflicts over its implementation and the multiple approvals each major program must receive. So far, no pathway for a particular major has made it all the way to system’s governing body, the Board of Regents, for final approval, but officials say they expect the Regents to review two majors by November.

Before any program can reach the Regents, it must be reviewed by the system’s Framework Implementation and Review Committee — a faculty committee with community college and regional state university representatives — and endorsed by the 17 colleges.

Student members of the Board of Regents highlighted the costs and stress associated with loss of credits during transfer.

“When I began college, it was very clear that this was a major concern: A lot of students are losing time and money having to duplicate their credits,” said Alex Tettey Jr., a former student board member.

Although no one has quantified how many credits students have lost when transferring within the CSCU system, John Mullane, a counselor at Gateway Community College, did a study in 2014 using data provided by UConn to find out how much lost credits cost students who transferred there.

That study found that 479 community college students who transfered to UConn lost an average of 12 credits, which translated into a cost of about $7 million. Although UConn is not part of the CSCU system and will not be included in the transfer agreement, the study was considered instructive.

“John shook the bees nest,” said Evelyn Gard, a spokesman for Gateway Community College.

The new CSCU program would create a “pathway transfer degree” that guarantees junior-level class status when a student transfers from a community college to a regional state university. The degree requires passing a system-wide, 60-credit curriculum of general education and major courses.

It differs from an associate’s degree in that it sets students on a course sequence that guarantees all courses transfer to the regional state universities.

To develop the pathways for each major, department representatives from each school convene to discuss their curricula and work out how to best synchronize them in a sequence that works for all of the schools.

The student center at Central Connecticut State University

CCSU

The student center at Central Connecticut State University

The regents embarked on creating a transfer system after the legislature mandated it in 2012, but lack of strong leadership led to the project’s being shelved for two and half years, according to Ken Klucznik and Candace Barrington, English professors at Central Connecticut State University and Manchester Community College respectively, who took over as the program’s co-managers in 2014.

Even with joint leadership, however, the sheer intricacy of synchronizing curricula for 17 schools has proven daunting.

“What we discovered was that the four state universities and Charter Oak never had any reason to talk to each other about these issues in the past. They grew independently of each other. The programs in many ways were different,” Klucznick said.

“It’s like putting together puzzles,” Barrington said.

While faculty generally support a system-wide transfer program, there is opposition from faculty at both the regional state universities and community colleges over specific elements.

Faculty senates at Norwalk and Manchester community colleges have passed resolutions opposing the Board of Regents’ interpretation of what a system-wide program should entail, including the new transfer degree and what the faculty saw as a loss of independence and uniqueness at each school.

In Norwalk’s resolution, faculty said that the burden of restructuring curricula has fallen largely on the community colleges, which must tailor their programs to match the requirements and expectations of the regional state universities.

The faculty said they would be forced to reduce exposure to courses with content in a student’s desired field of study in favor of general education courses designed to provide the prerequisites for transferring to the regional universities.

“The end result is that we will replace existing programs that are rich in content-specific learning with programs that are no more than general education programs that give our students minimal exposure to any content within that program,” the resolution reads. “We are better than this. We have qualified faculty who are motivated to teach the student populations unique to each of our colleges.”

Norwalk’s resolution described how the program coordinator for the Communication Arts pathway told Norwalk community college that no more than four out of 10 major courses would be transferable to the state universities, and that those four should be taught at each community college.

“There is an implication that community college faculty are somehow less qualified to teach program-specific courses than their state university counterparts,” the Norwalk resolution reads.

“The Board of Regents sees the community colleges only as feeder schools for the four state universities,” said Rae Strickland, an English professor at Manchester Community College. “That is one of our missions, but we prepare students for all sorts of institutions.”

Another area of uncertainty among some community college faculty was whether the transfer-pathway degree would replace the associate’s degree typically awarded to students. Both co-managers said during interviews that the transfer degree was optional, although students would have to opt-out of the pathway when enrolling.

There are concerns about the policy from some faculty at the state universities as well.

Visual and Performing Arts Center at Western Connecticut State University

WCSU

The Visual and Performing Arts Center at Western Connecticut State University

Elizabeth Cowles, a biology professor at Eastern Connecticut State University who has worked on the biology pathway since 2012, said the community colleges have less rigorous writing, math and science requirements.

“The main difference is the level of writing skills that we expect and the level of scientific knowledge coming in. The students are as successful, but in a lot of cases, it takes them some time to adjust.” Cowles said.

“I think the biggest gap has been the lack of mathematics requirements,” she said. For example, at Eastern Connecticut State University, students are expected to have completed at least algebra before they can take biology courses. However, at some community colleges, students might take algebra and biology at the same time, Cowles said.

Despite these conflicting views on course sequencing and quality, community college students in Connecticut tend to perform well when they transfer to the state universities and UConn, Mullane found in his study.

Mullane found that, in 2014, students who transferred to UConn with 60 or more credits had an 82% graduation rate, compared to the school’s 81% total graduation rate. A previous study Mullane did showed 62% of students who graduated from a regional Connecticut state university in 2014 had previously attended a Connecticut community college.

Mullane said the perception that community colleges course are of lower quality hinders transfer students.

“Part of the problem is a ‘myth’ that some core courses offered at the community colleges are not as rigorous as those at UConn and need to be repeated.  That if students don’t retake certain classes that they won’t do well academically at that school.  It is simply not true, and data from UConn proves that it isn’t true. Making students retake similar classes actually hurts their chances of attaining a bachelor’s degree,” Mullane wrote in response to a question.

In addition to requiring the Regent’s approval, the transfer system will require a budget for compensating faculty, marketing the policy to students and maintaining a website for the degree program if it is to remain successful, Klucznik said. Faculty will have to meet yearly in case any changes to curriculum are made, or if any new degree pathways are requested.

According to Klucznik, nine transfer degree programs will be ready by the fall of  2016, and last week the Board of Regents adopted a reverse-transfer program that allows students to receive an associate’s degree after transferring from a community college to a state university and completing the requirements there.

Using an acronym for the transfer program, which is formally called the Transfer Articulation Pathway, Klucznik said, “We are pretty confident about TAP, especially about the commitment of the faculty and staff who understand how helpful it will be for students.  If the system continues its commitment, we see no reason that we won’t see TAP pass that ‘finish line’.”

 

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