Thursday, July 09, 2009

My Experience with the Transfer Process Part II

by Peter Neiger

Read Part 1 here.

My first day of class at CofC went smoothly and I decided to run for one of the available Junior Senator spots in the Student Government Association. One of the requirements of this is to get your status approved by the Registrar’s office. I went back to that office and asked for verification. The nice student employee informed me I was registered as a freshman because I did not have any transfer credits. Growing frustrated I asked to speak with a representative and after a few minute wait I talked to one, this was a different person than I spoke to the first time. She told me that whoever entered my data gave me credit for the classes for pre-requisite purposes but never gave me credit for the hours, so I was still sitting at 0 hours even though I had classes completed on my transcript. She went through and fixed the problem and informed me that this happens all the time and it usually resolves itself because students don’t really like to cause waves. With that completed I turned in my paperwork for Student Government and continued on with my semester.

At the end of the semester I got my grade reports and was a bit surprised. I had transferred from HGTC with approximately 3.9 GPA but it said my average was equal to the grades I received that semester. I called around and was informed that when I transfer, the University was unwilling to recognize the grade, they would only recognize that I had passed the class. This was extremely frustrating because I was under the impression that my hard work during my first two years would work to my benefit and not be in vain. It would have been easy to maintain the required 2.6 GPA transfer requirement and spent more time on other things while at HGTC. This rejection of reciprocity irked me for my remaining time but I continued on, viewing it all as sunk costs. At the end of it all I graduated from CofC with a 3.4 GPA (it would have been approximately 3.7 and Cum Laude if my grades had been accepted).

I learned a lot from the experience, especially that I need to plan ahead and not trust the guidance given to me at either community colleges or universities. I am currently preparing to enter graduate school and I was not at all surprised to learn that a large number of the math and economics prerequisites for a PhD program were not mentioned or emphasized to me at any point. If I had to do it all again I would not have undergone a transfer strategy for my college education. The system is uncoordinated and lacks the transitional processes necessary to assist students in the process. The potential is there to make a difference and encourage educational growth and transition but right now the additional stress, confusion, running around and disorganization do not warrant the monetary savings, especially for students who can perform well enough to receive significant grants and scholarships.


capeman said...

Things sound pretty disorganized in South Carolina, at least between those two schools. I live in a different state, and from what I can tell, the transfer process is much more seamless, though it still has problems.

I sympathize with most of your complaints (going by your account, which is all I have, of course). Except for the part about the community college grades not counting toward your GPA.

Here where I teach -- a public "flagship" university, apparently unlike where you finished up, it should be said -- the grades of CC transfers generally are a half to a full notch lower when they get into the four-year programs. That is, B+ students at the CC become B- or C+ students at the big U. I won't speculate about the reasons, but there are some fairly obvious ones.

I don't see that the transfer process can ever be made completely painless, that is one reason I'm not terribly enthusiastic about proposals to have more students start out at CCs. For some students it's necessary, of course; for some it's even better. And I've seen plenty of transfers make it through upper-division programs (in the natural sciences). But I wouldn't call it an ideal path for most.

Jane S. Shaw said...

I, too, sympathize (and I won't undercut my sympathy the way Capeman did). Transfers are a serious problem in North Carolina, too, and probably all across the country -- in spite of the "articulation" agreements that community colleges and four-year universities supposedly have.

Transfers are essential to a fair system (one that is fair to the taxpayer as well as the student). Part of the problem (and this may be what Capeman was alluding to) is that community college courses are frequently less demanding than courses at four-year schools. There needs to be more synchronization (especially within one state system) and, above all, full disclosure about what a student is getting into when he or she starts on a community college program, intending to transfer.

capeman said...

I did not exactly think I was "undercutting" my sympathy by stating what I believe are the facts about grade drops of transfers, but if I was, so be it. (In fact as I mistakenly posted under Part I, the blogger's own grade drop of half a notch is completely consistant with what I said -- though the blogger ended up doing pretty well.)

Let me advance a few possible reasons why grades of transfer students drop.

First, the CC courses may simply be less demanding, as Jane Shaw says. A second reason, not inconsistent with the first, is that generally CC students are not as highly qualified (on average) as students at 4 year schools, in background, SATs, etc. So the grading at CCs may be easier.

(Let me add that in many states, CC credit can be gotten for courses actually taken at high schoolsl, taught by high school teachers. A predictable result is that the courses really are often watered down, even beyond whatever watering down goes on at the CC. With the predictable further result that students who have had, say, a year of calculus in high school with high grades, get mowed down when they go on to more advanced math at a 4 year college. This causes all kinds of hard feelings, friction with legislators, etc. etc.)

A third reason might simply be difficulty in adjusting to the switch from CC to 4 year college or simply the fact of a transfer.

Whatever the causes, the rate of completion of a 4 year degree by students INTENDING to do so who start at CC, is appallingly low, I've heard well under 20% where I live. It's hard to get this information because for a variety of reasons, a lot of people don't want it publicized.

This undercuts -- really! -- the notion that CCs are a financially efficient way to get students through 4-year bachelor's programs.

I would agree with Jane Shaw that full, or fuller disclosure -- sometimes it doesn't pay to know too much, e.g. the odds of surviving certain things -- about what transfer entails, would be a good idea.