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  • Selected Presidential Perspective
  • Needed: Transfer-of-Credit Paradigm Shift
    Joel E. Anderson
    University of Arkansas Little Rock
    June, 2009
  • University faculty and administrators are frequently least enthusiastic about tackling what is arguably the biggest barrier to timely graduation by very large numbers of students—the transfer of credits from one campus to another. At UALR, 75 percent of students to whom we award diplomas bring credits from at least one, and sometimes several, other institutions. Transfer students are not an anomaly but the norm at urban/metropolitan universities.

    The existing approach to transfer of credit is rooted in higher education realities around 1900 when there were few colleges and much dissimilarity in academic practice. Modern regional accrediting organizations, such as the North Central Association, were started in part to address transfer-of-credit issues.

    In the early 1900’s, the key question in transfer decisions became a very narrow one – was the course taken there closely equivalent to one offered here?

    Legislative efforts on transfer issues have reflected significant dissatisfaction but have not sought fundamental change. They have endeavored to mandate firm, advance determination of specific course equivalencies, which is simply the old approach, writ large, enabled by information technology.

    Uniformity—identical curricular requirements and identical courses on every campus—would eliminate transfer issues. External efforts to cure transfer problems have reflected that logic. If we want to avoid the imposition of transfer policies that dictate uniformity from one campus to another, we need to develop an approach that makes diversity in institutions and courses work better for students.

    The paradigm effect, as noted by Thomas Kuhn, has prevented our seeing new realities and considering alternatives. Within the prevailing paradigm, all of our current transfer policies and explanations make perfect sense. But the persistent and growing external pressures show that the paradigm itself no longer works--because things have changed.

    The number of students enrolled in colleges and universities has jumped from 238,000 in 1900 to 2.6 million in 1950 to more than 18 million today. The national population is very mobile. Most institutions are accredited.

    Nowadays faculty everywhere are well-qualified, and they have graduated from similar, if not the same, graduate schools. Disciplinary curricula are remarkably similar, which makes it easy for faculty to move from one institution to another—and should do the same for students. Across the nation faculty in a discipline participate in the same regional and national meetings and read and publish in the same journals. They see each other and know each other and stay in touch via the Internet.

    In recognition of these changed realities in American higher education, UALR has a new Office of Transfer Support Services to facilitate the entry and progress of transfer students. The UALR Faculty Senate 18 months ago launched a pilot project in which five departments (Biology, History, Criminal Justice, Nursing, and Construction Management) volunteered and were authorized to exercise broad discretion in making exceptions for transfer advisees regarding core courses, major and minor requirements, minimum upper-level credit requirements, and residency requirements. Exceptions on grade-point requirements and minimum-hour requirements were not authorized. At the end of the three-year pilot project the UALR faculty will be better equipped to evaluate and revise longstanding policies and requirements.

    Located in cities—crossroads for a mobile national population—our urban/metropolitan universities attract and serve transfer students in very large numbers. Surely that reality obligates us to find new ways to speed their paths to graduation.

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