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Brief | North Carolina’s articulation agreement needs revisiting

The North Carolina Comprehensive Articulation Agreement (CAA) underwent significant revision in 2014; however, recent research demonstrates disparities in the amount of North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS) credit that can be transferred and applied to majors at University of North Carolina (UNC) System institutions.

In light of a renewed statewide focus on the earning of post-secondary credentials, statewide baccalaureate degree plans facilitated by common course numbering at UNC System institutions, enhanced communication related to transfer, and accountability measures related to equity could all make significant differences for multiple student populations.

Is it time to revise the North Carolina CAA once again?

This brief explores the amount of credit that NCCCS students are able to transfer and apply to their major of study at the accepting UNC System institution. My recent research applied difference-in-differences analysis, a quantitative methodology, to observe any changes that have emerged since the only major revision to the CAA that occurred in 2014.

My analysis, using data on 110,012 NCCCS transfer students between academic years 2009-2010 and 2018-2019, revealed that Associate in Arts (AA) and Associate in Science (AS) degree earners, on average, now transfer and apply to their major of choice approximately three credits (or one course) fewer than they did prior to the revision.

Additionally, I found that Black and Hispanic AA- and AS-degree earners, on average, now transfer and apply approximately three credits (or one course) more than they did prior to the revision. This last fact is tempered by the further revelation that Black and Hispanic students, regardless of degree-earning status, historically transfer and apply up to three credits (or one course) fewer than do white students.

Lost credit hours come at a significant cost to students. For the 2021-2022 academic year, the median semester cost for tuition plus fees for a full-time student (12 or more credit hours) at a UNC System institution was $3,533. Thus, each additional credit taken at the university may cost a student $294. The three-credit reduction in applicable credit therefore leads to an approximate $1,000 monetary increase, in addition to costs in extra time to complete the degree.

My extensive background related to the transfer processes in the state of North Carolina provides me the unique perspective to make recommendations related to these findings. Over 15 years of experience in the NCCCS serving in multiple roles for Catawba Valley Community College and for the system office have informed my views and, combined with my research results, lead me to suggest that North Carolina’s CAA is once again in need of overhaul. I have three key recommendations that would assist in the process and enhance the transfer student experience in the state of North Carolina. While the third recommendation is completely new, the first and second recommendations build on already-existing features of the CAA.

Key recommendations

  1. Revise current baccalaureate degree plans so that they would be viable at each UNC System institution for each major of study.
  2. Enhance communication measures pertaining to the CAA, particularly with regard to its benefits and guarantees to AA – and AS – degree earners, but also with regard to data transfer.
  3. Establish a process to measure, monitor, and promote equitable transfer outcomes for all racial/ethnic groups.

Jonathan Loss

Jonathan Loss is the dean of academics and educational opportunities at Catawba Valley Community College. Loss also serves as a research affiliate at the Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research. He has been a member of the joint North Carolina Community College System and University of North Carolina (UNC) System’s Transfer Advisory Committee (TAC) for over six years and recently became co-chair of the committee. Loss recently completed his doctoral degree in community college leadership at North Carolina State University.