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Perspective | NC still has work to do to strengthen transfer pathways

North Carolina has a Comprehensive Articulation Agreement (CAA) model that can streamline transfer from any of our community colleges to any of our public universities. We also have a similar agreement that streamlines the transfer between any of our community colleges and signatory NC Independent Colleges and Universities.

We can be proud of what we have accomplished. This is a comprehensive partnership among and between multiple postsecondary institutions that is not found in every state across the nation. While North Carolina has had a CAA since 1997, the 2014 revisions were designed to ensure that the agreement consistently represents current programming that supports both of the following transfer patterns:

  1. Students transferring prior to associate degree completion: The key CAA component that supports these students earning specific course credit for their community college coursework includes the universal general education courses that have direct course equivalencies at the universities.
  2. Students transferring after associate degree completion: The key CAA component that supports more streamlined transfer for these students includes the baccalaureate degree plans composed of the necessary associate degree courses (general education and pre-major courses) and the remaining university courses necessary for baccalaureate completion.

Again, this transfer model is a system-to-system model that covers a variety of majors at a variety of four-year institutions across the entire state — that is the baccalaureate landscape in North Carolina. Acknowledging and appreciating this landscape and the number of options that are potentially available to our students, the CAA is most effective when there is consistent, transparent communication within the transfer network, which includes advisors at the community colleges, advisors at the four-year institutions, and most importantly, our students.

We can be proud of what we have accomplished, but that does not mean that we shouldn’t continue to improve on the implementation of the 2014 CAA nor that there is not additional work to do. We need to not only align our education pathways (as the 2014 CAA directs with our transfer associate degrees and baccalaureate degree plans), but we also need to ensure alignment of our advising and support pathways so that our students begin their educational pathway with their career goal in mind.

Students need to be informed about their options, the expectations, the pathway, and the supports available — and they need to actively engage in the career pathway planning at the onset of their enrollment at our community colleges. That is no different than the needed experience for our students entering directly into four-year institutions.

Improving all of our students’ ability to make informed career decisions early in their education pathway reduces the probability of students changing pathways once they have begun their postsecondary work. Those changes, regardless of whether students begin at a four-year institution or a community college, can result in some completed coursework not meeting educational pathway requirements.

However, one additional challenge that still remains for our community college transfers that can make their experience less seamless than the students who complete their entire pathway at one institution is that there are differences in coursework for the same bachelor’s degree offered at different four-year institutions. Any transfer student applying to more than one four-year institution must prepare for those differences. That means our community college students must include the institutional differences in major requirements in their planning until they are accepted into the specific major at a specific institution.

I believe the following two enhancements to our 2014 CAA could significantly reduce this additional challenge for our transfer students:

  1. A common set of courses that make up the first 15 hours of pre-major courses.
  2. Transfer students’ acceptance into program major at the four-year institution confirmed by mid-fall of the year prior to expected transfer.

This would  allow for a transfer student who has chosen a specific major to take the first semester of common pre-major courses while waiting to learn into which university acceptance has been confirmed, ultimately honing in on the unique courses at a specific university after acceptance confirmation during the last semester of the associate degree.

Finally, we need to embrace life-long learning and act on what that means in today’s economy. Of the 11,000+ students that transferred in the fall of 2018, 40% of those who transferred with a degree had earned an associate in applied science (AAS).

Recognizing the value of the AAS, not only as an entry-level workforce credential but also as a piece of a career pathway education in today’s economy, is an imperative for all higher ed partners.

Lisa Chapman

Dr. Lisa M. Chapman is president of Central Carolina Community College.