Guest Blog: The Trouble with Transfer Articulation Policies

Saturday, June 11, 2011
Today's blog is authored by Josipa Roksa, assistant professor at the University of Virginia

Once again, transfer articulation policies are in the news, being touted as a viable solution to the problem of low transfer rates between 2-year and 4-year colleges.

Articulation policies sound like a good idea, but there are a few pieces of empirical evidence that should give us pause. Consider the following questions:

(1) Do states with articulation policies (and particularly those with more comprehensive articulation policies) have higher transfer rates?

According to at least three recent studies, the answer is no.

For example, see:
Gregory M. Anderson, Jeffrey C. Sun, and Mariana Alfonso Anderson, “Effectiveness of Statewide Articulation Agreements on the Probability of Transfer: A Preliminary Policy Analysis” The Review of Higher Education, 29 no 3 (2006).

Betheny Gross and Dan Goldhaber, “Community College Transfer and Articulation Policies: Looking Beneath the Surface.” Working paper # 2009_1R. University of Washington Bothell: Center on Reinventing Public Education (April 2009)

Josipa Roksa, “Building Bridges for Student Success: Are Higher Education Articulation Policies Effective?,” Teachers College Record 111 (2009).

(2) Do states with articulation policies have higher bachelor’s degree completion rates, shorter time-to-degree, and/or less “wasted” credits among their transfer students?

The answer, again, is no.

Josipa Roksa, and Bruce Keith,“Credits, Time, and Attainment: Articulation Policies and Success after Transfer,” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 30 (2008).

(3) How many credits do four-year entrants earn on their path toward a bachelor’s degree?

Community college transfers are not the only ones earning 140 credits. A recent report noted that students who transferred from community colleges to the California State University (CSU) system graduated with an average of 141 credits. And how many credits did students who began in the CSU system graduate with? 142!! The situation is only slightly better in Florida: Associate of Arts (AA) transfers completed 137 credits before graduation while native four-year students averaged approximately 133 credits. Similar patterns are observed in national data: students starting in four-year institutions (and even those who attend only one four-year institution) earn more (and often many more) than 120 credits.

In conclusion: yes, low transfer rates are a problem, but there is no empirical evidence to suggest that articulation policies are the solution. This does not mean that we should not work on streamlining credit accumulation, or that the transfer process should not be more transparent and consistent. But it does mean that relying on articulation policies to increase bachelor’s degree attainment or improve efficiency in higher education is more hopeful than realistic.