SUNY Attempts To Fix the Community College Transfer Problem

One of the difficulties faced by graduates of community colleges looking to transfer into four-year programs is getting those schools to accept the credits they’ve earned.

The State University of New York is on the case:

Two weeks ago, the Special Joint Committee on Transfer and Articulation – whose members include representatives from the system’s administration, Faculty Senate and Faculty Council of Community Colleges – delivered a set of policy recommendations to Nancy Zimpher, new SUNY chancellor. The stated goal of the committee’s work “is to enable students to transfer seamlessly among SUNY campuses without replicating courses taken at other SUNY institutions.”

David Lavallee, the interim SUNY provost who is leading the reform initiative, said the proposed revision marks a “paradigm shift” for the acceptance of transfer credits throughout the system. Though core general education requirements have traditionally transferred easily among SUNY institutions, upper-level courses that can count toward undergraduate majors have often been the source of debate between transferring institutions. To use one example, that means students who are getting started on programs in business at community colleges may have to retake “financial accounting” and “managerial accounting,” two courses taken by all business majors, because there is not yet a common understand of what these courses comprise.

“In the past, transfers relied upon numerous one-to-one agreements between individual community colleges and four-year institutions within the system,” Lavallee said. “If community colleges wanted courses accepted, they submitted them to all of the four-year colleges in the system. Odds are that, when shopping around courses to two dozen faculty boards, not all of them were approved. Now, we’re moving toward a system where sets of courses within disciplines will be defined by their name, not their number, and then will be accepted system-wide.”

A key element of the new system is that faculty will play an important role in determining who gets credit for what:

Representatives from both the system’s two- and four-year institutions expressed optimism for the policy changes, largely because of the system’s insistence that faculty members, not upper administrators or state lawmakers, define how and when courses will transfer.

That certainly seems like a better way of handling transfers.

Jesse Singal

Jesse Singal is a former opinion writer for The Boston Globe and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. He is currently a master's student at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Policy. Follow him on Twitter at @jessesingal.