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This week I was in a meeting with representatives from a four-year college to which we transfer a lot of students. The partnership between the two schools is strong, we work well together, and the spirit of the meeting was problem-solving.

All of that said, the problem is a wee bit complicated. I’m hoping that some wise and worldly readers have found ways of handling it.

It has to do with getting students to take the right prerequisite courses before transferring. 

Although legislators don’t like to hear it, there’s no such thing as a generic transfer. That’s because there’s no such thing as a generic degree. Degrees involve majors, and majors involve particular sets of courses.  A student who starts as a physics major and then switches to music may lose some credits, and some time, along the way.

The catch is that the same major at five different four-year schools may have five different sets of requirements. One might require two years of a language; another might prefer American history to world history; another might have a diversity course requirement that can’t do double duty in another category.  And then, of course, we have our own requirements for associate degrees.

That means that a student acting in good faith, and without changing majors, could find herself missing some prerequisite courses upon transfer.  And, in fact, they do. Doubling back and taking those classes after having already graduated adds time and cost to the transfer process.

We discussed having some of the four-year school’s advisors on our campus, meeting with first-year students who are interested in going there, in hopes of helping them choose courses that will work for both programs.  In a low-trust setting, of course, that could lead to poaching, but I trust our partners not to do that. They understand what’s at stake.

Community colleges frequently get blamed when students lose credits upon transfer, but if the receiving schools disagree with each other, some mismatches are inevitable.

Ideally, students would arrive knowing where they want to go from day one.  And some do. But most don’t, and it’s understandable why they wouldn’t. It may take a few semesters to figure out the next step, by which time some of the damage is done.

I know that some states have convened gatherings of four-year and two-year schools by discipline to get them to find common ground.  That would certainly help, but it’s not something I can do from here.

Wise and worldly readers, have you seen a reasonably elegant solution to this?  We’re not Maricopa, sending over 90 percent of our transfers to one place. We’re in a target-rich environment, and the targets don’t talk to each other.  Is there a better way?

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