Interstate Passport Gives College Students the Means to Navigate Transfer Requirements

Posted By Eliana Osborn on July 20, 2016 at 7:26 am
Interstate Passport Gives College Students the Means to Navigate Transfer Requirements

Well-articulated transfer agreements are a benefit to students as well as schools. Within a state, there may be clarity about transfer requirements and what classes and credits translate from community colleges to public universities. But when transfers cross state lines, all bets are off. That’s where a collaboration of seven western states could make all the difference with a “passport” that can bridge the gap.

“Our current course-by-course articulation system was designed for an earlier era when there were fewer institutions and fewer students transferring,” according to Patricia A. Shea, director of academic leadership initiatives at the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.

“With all the options today, the transfer process can be very confusing for students who may not have access to adequate advising and up-to-date course equivalency tables. We need a simpler process—at least for lower division general education, which is a common denominator across most institutions.”

Students often must weigh transfer requirements

Community colleges are sorely understaffed in terms of advisement; students frequently are left to piece together transfer requirements from outdated materials and websites. When the time comes to transfer, they too often discover they will have to retake classes or lose credits in the process.

Shea explains how the commission’s Passport will help students. “The Interstate Passport’s goal is to eliminate the unnecessary repetition of learning already achieved.  Students who earn a Passport and transfer to another Interstate Passport Network member institution will not have to repeat or take additional courses to satisfy the lower division general education requirements in the Passport’s nine areas at the new institution.”

The Interstate Passport Initiative was announced at the end of June, capping off work over five years to establish learning outcomes for general education level courses. Each school will decide which classes fulfill the Passport Learning Outcomes. The framework is in place to match up courses not just between different schools but across the whole western state consortium.

The biggest gains provided by the Passport will be for community college students. “If students have to transfer because of military, a job, family or numerous other reasons and they have to repeat learning already achieved, it can be a significant hurtle,” says Shea. “For low income and first generation students especially who could barely afford to take courses the first time, it can be the end of their higher education journey.”

Transfer requirements can derail graduation

The Community College Resource Center at Columbia University finds that just 25% of community college students end up transferring to bachelor’s degree programs, despite 80% saying they plan to do so when they first start college.

A major cause for students not transferring, or not earning a degree if they do transfer? Research says credit loss is to blame.  According to the CCRC, “Fewer than 60 percent of community college students were able to transfer most of their credits, and about 15 percent transferred almost no credits. Loss of credits had consequences for degree attainment: Students who transferred almost all of their community college credits were 2.5 times more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree than students who transferred fewer than half of their credits.”

With the Interstate Passport, a student will be able to transfer to another participating school and have all her or his Passport Block classes count reciprocally. Nine areas are available for Passport Learning Outcomes: Oral Communication, Written Communication, Quantitative Literacy, Natural Sciences, Human Cultures, Human Society and the Individual, Creative Expression, Critical Thinking, and Teamwork and Value Systems.

The Interstate Passport only covers seven states for now. But as Passport Blocks are implemented at participating schools, other states will be watching to see the impact the WICHE agreement has on completion rates.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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