Transfer Minors

An innovative first-in-the-nation policy you can replicate.

September 16, 2019

9-10-19Nearly 5.5 million students were enrolled in two-year institutions in 2018. At least 31.5% of those students transferred to four-year institutions within 6 years of initial enrollment at a community college (National Student Clearinghouse).

Four-year institutions are competing for those transfer students, especially in states with declining numbers of traditional high school graduates.  Rhode Island College (RIC) is one of those institutions.

At a meeting with faculty in 2018, RIC President FrankD. Sánchez, expressed an interest in having the college develop 2+2 plans to attract more transfer students from our local community college. He asked if I would lead this project in collaboration with department chairs. I focused first on majors that were most popular with transfers.

Transfer students, particularly those who complete associate degrees in fields for which we have no major, often express frustration and disappointment when a large number of elective credit is awarded for their work. That was particularly evident in our justice studies major, where the sociology chair shared that many of the transfers had completed associate degrees in law enforcement or paralegal studies, majors we do not offer.  

A number of those students were awarded anywhere from 18-36 elective credits from their associate degree, which makes that knowledge and those skills virtually invisible.  The row upon row of posted elective credit on a transcript can be particularly disheartening.

Eighteen was the number that stood out for me because it is the minimum number of credits we require for a college minor. While not required at our institution, we tell students that completing a minor can add value to an undergraduate degree for internships, employment or graduate school, giving students a “stackable credential.”

I wondered if we might look at community college learning and elective credits in an entirely new way – by creating a stackable credential called a transfer minor. 

An Inside Higher Education article on credential innovation by Jimmie Williamson and Matthew Pittinsky (May 23, 2016) focuses on stackable credentials, stating, “The more credentials learners accumulate and stack, the more they increase their currency in our knowledge economy, creating more direct pathways to better jobs and higher wages.” 

How did we go about creating a policy proposal and gaining approval for a transfer minor?  After reviewing a number of transcripts of students with associate degrees in law enforcement and paralegal studies, it was possible to formulate a proposal for transfer credit requirements.

Below are the key elements we used to define a transfer minor for three of our governing bodies (Committee on Academic Polices & Procedures, Faculty Council and Undergraduate Curriculum Committee):

  • 18-24 credits of required courses from the associate degree  
  • Developed by the Vice Provost with approval of the Dean of the most closely related field.
  • All courses completed prior to transfer
  • No existing minor on campus; discontinue transfer minor should minor be developed 
  • Transfer minor is posted in Academic Program History, not under Degrees Awarded
  • Repackage required courses into a course with designation of TMIN

We also created the option, case-by-case, for a transfer minor from a four-year institution.  For example, if an engineering student were to transfer to Rhode Island College (we do not offer engineering), we could construct a transfer minor in engineering to repackage elective credits.

Could you replicate this on your campus?  Absolutely, if you are looking for new ways to attract transfer students to your institution as we are. Another goal for the transfer minor is to increase the level of student satisfaction among our community college transfers.

We have developed eight transfer minors for students from CCRI and five for Bristol Community College in nearby Massachusetts.  In our initial group of transfer minors for CCRI, we developed a transfer minor in cybersecurity.  However, our Math/Computer Science department and Accounting/CIS departments are collaborating across schools to develop a new minor in cybersecurity this year, so we have discontinued the transfer minor.  

Of note, the chair of Math/Computer Science asked if her department could suggest courses for a new transfer minor in computer studies, which we have approved and our dean of the School of Social Work is interested in a transfer minor in social services. The current list of CCRI transfer minors and courses required can be found at http://www.ric.edu/CCRItoRIC/Pages/default.aspx.

I first presented the concept to the deans of our five undergraduate schools and it was positively received.  Some shared the information with their chairs. Because this was such a new concept, I initially received some negative feedback from chairs who thought we were articulating courses they had not or would not allow.  I had a number of conversations to assure them this was not the case.  

Be prepared to have those conversations. This is a very different concept which will raise questions. Lobby, if necessary. 

The next step was to develop a formal proposal for a transfer minor policy, to present it to the appropriate decision-making bodies on campus for approval.  

A combination of data and anecdotal evidence will help you target the best opportunities for transfer minors at your institution. Study your transfer data to identify the best opportunities in terms of associate degrees earned. Consider conducting focus groups with current transfer students to get their feedback on the transfer process. 

I began by running queries to look at our fall 2018 and incoming spring 2019 transfer students by previous institution and planned major at the college.  As soon as the policy was approved, I wrote to an inaugural group eligible transfer students. This quote from an accounting major with a transfer minor in financial advisory services tells me we made the right decision in creating the transfer minor:

“Having the transfer minor on my transcript will help me secure opportunities such as internships, and other academic benefits. A transfer minor can enhance my marketability since it will show the diversification of my skills. It shows I know other aspects of finance than just accounting.”

Holly L. Shadoian, PhD is Vice Provost for Undergraduate Affairs at Rhode Island College.


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