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Nationally students battle credit transfer policies

Carlos Cordero, left, 29, is in his first year at UNC.  As a staff sergeant in the Army, he was stationed at Fort Bragg.  Through Fayetteville Technical Community College, he joined C-Step which led him to UNC Chapel Hill.
Carlos Cordero, left, 29, is in his first year at UNC. As a staff sergeant in the Army, he was stationed at Fort Bragg. Through Fayetteville Technical Community College, he joined C-Step which led him to UNC Chapel Hill.

Cordero, a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army, transferred from Fayetteville Technical Community College after completing his associate’s degree through the Carolina Student Transfer Excellence Program, which gives students a path through community college to UNC — and ensures they get the credits they need.

“(My adviser) would align what you were taking at Fayetteville Tech with what would transfer over here, so I wouldn’t have to take extra classes,” Cordero said.

While regional programs like C-STEP are beneficial for students like Cordero, for many transfer students, the transition to UNC — and to other schools nationwide — is not as seamless.

An August study from the National Center for Education Statistics found that 39 percent of transfer students nationwide arrive at their new institution with no transfer credits.

“When there are problems in higher education, we typically blame the institutions,” said Sean Simone, the report’s author. “It’s not the institutions. They, along with students, have a legitimate interest in making the credit transfer process as seamless as possible.”

Katie Cartmell, UNC’s transfer student retention coordinator, said she does not see problems of credit transfer at UNC on the scale Simone released in his report. But she said the challenges of being a transfer student persist at any university.

“There’s such a thing as transfer shock,” she said. “It hits students academically and socially, in whatever transfer path they take.”

She said the average grade point average of a transfer student before coming to UNC is 3.7, but when students transfer their GPA falls significantly. For junior transfers who come from community colleges or four-year institutions, their average GPA averages around 2.9 by the end of their first year at UNC.

Tomiko Hackett, a UNC senior who transferred as a sophomore from Rutgers University in New Jersey, said her initial transition to UNC was difficult.

“I went to academic advising and other administrators, but I would still walk away feeling really lost,” Hackett said. “I really had to advocate for myself as a transfer student, and I feel like other transfers on campus feel the same way.”

As an out-of-state student, Hackett said she felt especially lost in the transfer process, only finding help within the Carolina Covenant Scholars program.

For students transferring from community colleges within North Carolina, the state’s Comprehensive Articulation Agreement ensures students completing an associate’s degree and obtaining at least a 2.0 GPA will meet the minimum requirements to be accepted into one of the 16 UNC-system universities.

As of this semester, the 1997 policy was revised to define a general education core — courses that students can transfer from any of the state’s 58 community colleges to any UNC-system school.

“North Carolina has done a great job of creating a regional policy for transfer students,” Simone said. “But, there is a national need for more regional policies protecting and advocating for transfer students.”

He said articulation agreements need to be developed on a national level.

“We really need to make sure that, in the case of transfer students, different states are working with one another to help what’s most important in this situation — the students,” he said.

Tracy Mancini, dean of the Arts, Sciences and University Transfer department at Durham Technical Community College, said she doesn’t see many students with large credit issues because of the policies North Carolina has in place.

But Mancini added that it isn’t the same nationwide.

“There is a national call right now to ease the burden of transfer students,” she said.

Janet Marling, executive director of the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students, said a national agreement would be a good goal — but given that many states and regions are having trouble passing effective policies, this goal is far off.

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“We need to look at the application of credit transfer to make progress because if you’re pursuing any academic goal and your credits don’t transfer, you’re not making any progress,” Marling said.

It’s important, she said, for new and revised policies to be inclusive of all transfer student populations.

“Out-of-state students have a tough time because when transferring to an institution in another state, these localized articulation agreements, no matter how great they are, don’t apply,” she said.

At UNC, transfer students still face obstacles, even with access to special groups and communities, such as the Transfer United Living-Learning Community and the Tar Heel Transfer Student Organization.

Hackett said course registration is often biased against transfers, as each student is assigned a registration time based on the number of hours they have completed before and while attending UNC.

“Every semester I find myself registering for classes days after other individuals in my grade are registering,” Hackett said. “I’ve had really hard times getting into some classes I need for my major because of this rule.”

Some students in North Carolina, and many more nationwide, continue to struggle in the transfer process, Mancini said.

“North Carolina has been attentive to the need of transfers, and this is something other regions and the nation can take notice of.”