Students may get a central source for transfer information

CT Mirror file photo

Students on campus at Manchester Community College

A bill awaiting Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s signature would create an information hub for students seeking to take advantage of a five-year effort to ease transfers within the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system or to the University of Connecticut.

But transferring still wouldn’t be as straightforward as filling out an application, and not every credit taken at a community college would be applied toward a student’s degree elsewhere.

Many students lose a semester’s worth of credits when they transfer and thus take more than four years to get their bachelor’s degree, and pay more for it than non-transfer students. To earn a degree in the most affordable and efficient way, students must be well informed of the varying pathways, programs and classes available to them in the CSCU system and UConn.

The CSCU system includes the four regional state universities, 12 community colleges and the online Charter Oak College.

A go-to place for information

The new bill, passed unanimously in the House and Senate, centralizes information about transferring between community colleges and all four-year public colleges and universities within the state, including the new Transfer Ticket program in the CSCU system and the Guaranteed Admission Program at UConn.

The bill does not expand the number of courses that can be transferred, but it requires the schools to better promote awareness of the majors and programs that do transfer from two-year to four-year institutions.

“With this bill, we had an interest in figuring out what we could do to keep college education affordable for the working class,” said Mansfield State Rep. Gregg Haddad, co-chair on the legislature’s Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee. “Community colleges are so much less expensive, so doing one of the Transfer Ticket programs is a very affordable way to go to school.”

The legislation requires that the CSCU system and UConn have their transfer programs and guidelines available on a new Office of Higher Education website, to be called ConneCT4. All schools also would need to report on the success of their transfer programs on this website each year.

“There has been a lot of incorrect information about student transfer, therefore we support the legislature’s decision to request annual reports using accurate and qualified data for these programs, instead of relying on anecdotal evidence,” CSCU Director of Communications Maribel La Luz said.

The research and information requirements will have to be met by existing staff since no additional funds were appropriated. The bill as originally proposed would have set aside money for a marketing campaign and a staff member to regularly update the ConneCT4 website as courses change and data about program success is gathered. 

CSCU Transfer Ticket program 

After five years of work, the CSCU system launched the Transfer Ticket program with 11 degrees in 2016 and will add another 11 this coming fall semester, including accounting, computer science and social work, La Luz said. More will be added over time, she said.

Each major in the program has a set sequence of courses, the first 60 of which are taken at the community college level and the next 60 at one of the four state universities or Charter Oak. Several of the majors begin with the same courses in the first two semesters, so a student can most probably switch among those majors after the first year and still transfer and graduate on time, said Candace Barrington, an English professor at Central and co-manager of CSCU transfer programs.

UConn Guaranteed Admission Program 

Far fewer community college students transfer to UConn because it is a highly competitive research university, said Lauren Doninger, who coordinates the Guaranteed Admission Program (GAP) at Gateway Community College.

Through GAP, students at any of the community colleges can gain guaranteed admission to UConn if they achieve a certain GPA and complete required coursework.

“Our students have guaranteed admission to the school of business with a 3.3 and the right courses,” Doninger said. “That’s incredible, it is so competitive when you are at UConn.”

The main obstacle to participation in GAP is simply awareness, Doninger said.

The average number of credits that a CSCU school or UConn accept for transfer is often held up as the measure of how successful a transfer program is. During hearings in March, John Mullane, a counselor at Gateway Community College, testified that UConn declines to count 25 percent of college-level credits to satisfy requirements of a major, an average of 15 credits per student.

“The problem for community college students is not that they are unprepared academically and need to catch up to their four year peers” Mullane said. “This is a false perception that hurts students and is a major reason given by four year schools for rejecting courses. The largest barrier for students is being forced to pay twice to retake similar courses, it delays graduation and increases student debt.”

Developmental classes don’t qualify

However, most students who attend community college need to take several pre-requisite courses before they can take the first class offered in a degree sequence at a four-year institution.

“At a community college, they have to take nine credits before calculus. They don’t go to the (UConn) degree, but it isn’t because UConn is being unreasonable,” Doninger said.

Students coming into community colleges normally need to begin with algebra and work their way through three semesters before they are ready to take calculus – the first math class in many bachelor’s-degree sequences, Doninger said. Therefore, these students aren’t really losing credits, Doninger said, they are just catching up to the spot where freshmen entering UConn or CSCU’s regional universities already are.

English as a Second Language (ESL) is another big area in which community college students accumulate credits. Students who need to take ESL often accumulate up to 21 credits that would not apply to a degree, Barrington said.

Comparison to other states

Having different transfer requirements for the CSCU system and UConn complicated Connecticut’s transfer pathways.

In 36 other states, there is a transferable core of lower-division courses between all of the state’s colleges and universities, as opposed to different systems for each type of four-year institution, according to a 2016 report by the Education Commission of the States. It is this type of common core of general education requirements that the state originally wanted to implement with the first draft of the bill this past March.

However, educators at the community colleges, CSCU regional universities and UConn said they were relieved that this part of the bill did not pass.

A common core would imply that a student majoring in computer science needs the same preparation as a student majoring in English. It removes any nuance between different degrees, Doninger said, and wouldn’t adequately prepare students to transfer.

“I am tremendously relieved that the initial bill didn’t pass,” Doninger said. “The bill could have dismantled the Transfer Ticket program and years of coming to consensus.”

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