Institutions should examine their articulation pathways--they must go beyond transfer credit to guide degree completion for all students.

How to elevate the transfer experience

Articulation pathways must go beyond transfer credit to guide degree completion for all students

Establishing best-practice, transformative transfer policies is essential for higher education institutions to successfully recruit transfer students, even more so now as student mobility continues to become more ubiquitous and varied.

Today’s transfer students with credit from community colleges, four-year institutions, and the military are looking for flexibility in a potential target college as they seek the most valuable and efficient pathways toward earning a degree.

Columbia College is a private not-for-profit institution with a main campus in mid-Missouri and more than 35 locations throughout the United States. We serve traditional and adult learners in both in-seat and online modalities. The college is known for being one of the early leaders in developing a robust online learning program, and our presence in several states, as well as our flexibility in course delivery method, has allowed Columbia College to enroll nearly 8,300 transfer students each academic year. This means transfer credit evaluation is big business at Columbia College.

In my nearly two decades spent evaluating transfer credit and elevating the overall transfer experience in higher education, I’ve found that establishing strategic and clear articulation agreements that allow for efficient transfer is paramount for student success. By using technology in combination with streamlined transfer plans and policies, Columbia College is able to attract more transfer students and ultimately guiding them to their degree completion.

Laying the foundation: Best practice transfer plans and policies

With 57 percent of our total active student population consisting of transfer students, it is critical for us to show students and prospects how easily their credits will transfer into a degree pathway at our institution. Modernizing our transfer plans has resulted in identification of the shortest and least expensive path from each student’s associate degree to their bachelor degree, eliminating unnecessary courses or credit hours.

We’ve also attracted more transfer students by improving the transparency of our transfer credit with publicly available resources, such as equivalency guides and precursory evaluations. Providing access to these enables students to know our equivalencies are reliable and align with the most direct route to a degree. Developing program-specific articulation agreements with partner institutions where we have significant transfer numbers enables us to evaluate top programs at both institutions, and optimally matches up equivalencies.

Over the years we’ve also used technology to modernize our transfer plan and course-equivalency evaluation approach, which allows us to respond to all student transcript evaluation requests within a day. Using CollegeSource’s continuously updated nationwide course catalog and automated Transfer Evaluation System, we publish and display equivalency guides on our website that include all current equivalencies in real time, allowing us to create degree plans for articulation agreements. All prospective transfer students, current students, and advisors may view reliable equivalency data in one centralized location and quickly determine the value of earned credits. As part of this modernization, we streamlined our internal protocols for evaluating equivalencies. That allowed us to update those equivalencies that meet general education (GE) requirements and factor towards potential GE waivers for associate degrees that meet our equivalency requirements through articulation agreements.

Articulation agreements elevated: Onsite advisors at partner institutions

With these foundational elements in place, our course articulation agreements with specific partner institutions help enable students to reliably retain more credits if they are transferring into Columbia College versus other possible target schools.

We currently work with more than 20 institutions where we have articulation agreements across multiple states – including five institutions where we have “2+2” articulation agreements (two years for associate degree plus two more years once they transfer to earn a bachelor’s degree) – so we recognize how important it is for students to move along their degree pathways with confidence that their earned credits will count as expected. Two of our most popular programs are in business and criminal justice, so many of our strongest articulation agreements are with institutions that offer many courses in these areas. That alignment empowers students to take relevant courses while working toward an associate degree with confidence that they will also transfer toward a Columbia College bachelor’s degree.

One thing that Columbia College does to elevate the transfer student experience is placing advisors either onsite at select institutions, such as community colleges and military bases where we have articulation agreements, or having them available at a nearby physical location. As a result, these advisors can meet with students while they are pursuing their associate degree programs and help provide degree planning and credit transfer guidance for a seamless transition to Columbia College. These onsite advisors are up to date on our latest course equivalencies and articulation agreements with institutions so they can help students understand how their current and upcoming credits will apply to a degree plan – both at their current institution and at Columbia College once they transfer.

At Columbia College, our team seeks to serve the comprehensive needs of the modern student. This goes beyond the notion of the “non-traditional” student and is inclusive of a growing population of learners seeking flexibility in educational delivery, course options and overall support as they pursue a degree outside of the four-year, full-time participation model. Our approach in supporting a massive number of transfer students with transparent articulation agreements, equivalency information, and onsite support at partners institutions has helped Columbia College meet our mission of helping students realize their academic goals.

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