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Un-complicating Community College Transfer

September 14, 2007

A New Jersey law signed by the governor Thursday offers an unusual approach to easing transfer of community college credit by requiring that, upon acceptance, an associate degree awarded by a county college must be fully transferable and count as the first two years toward a baccalaureate degree at any of the state’s public institutions.

“It’s not just that they’ll accept you and then you do a dance to see if they accept the credits,” said Jane Oates, executive director of the New Jersey Commission on Higher Education. “You transfer with half the credits you need for graduation.”

A number of states have statutes in place to ease transfer of credit by offering community college graduates guaranteed admission to public universities or offering a common course numbering system across the two-year and four-year institutions.

New Jersey’s new law, however, does not guarantee acceptance -- students still have to do that part on their own -- but rather a full transfer of credits. Transfers have typically been facilitated by individual articulation agreements between two- and four-year colleges.

“The state of New Jersey, like many others, has a tremendous amount of articulation agreements across the board,” said state Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, a Democrat who was the primary sponsor of the legislation. “The problem was, once a professor or head of department left a university, basically sometimes the articulation agreement went along with them. How do you take a student who is committed to the experience of doing a particular major” and leave them, Lampitt asked, “high and dry?”

“As students’ choices become larger and larger in terms of what they could major in,” added Oates, “these step-by-step, one-by-one articulation agreements just leave plenty of room for students to fall through the cracks.”

Lampitt said the New Jersey Presidents' Council, a 50-member board that consists of representatives from public and private higher education alike (including community colleges), originally drafted the statewide transfer agreement guaranteeing full transfer of the associate degree. Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine signed the law mandating the transfer agreement's implementation at a ceremony at Camden County College Thursday morning.

But while the law guarantees full and “seamless” transfer of credits between the two- and four-year institutions, the law’s supporters cautioned that students who switch majors still might not be able to complete their degrees within four years. And, as Camden County College's president pointed out, four-year institutions will still be able to require particular classes for a major in lieu of other courses that a community college might offer, but in that case would be expected to offer elective or general education credit for the work that a student has completed.

There are lots of nuances and details when it comes to fulfilling major requirements, Camden County President Raymond Yannuzzi said. “But what we don’t want, and what this legislation strongly discourages, is for the state college to say, ‘Well, you have to take your English here’….or ‘Only our European history is good’ -- that kind of thing.”

“New Jersey incidentally has been one of the states where students have historically had a very hard time transferring credits, [because of] a lot of resistance on the part of senior institutions,” said David Baime, vice president for government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges. “We certainly are happy to see these kinds of arrangements being forged.”

 

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