Posted in HS4CC

Great Article on Transferring Credits

Anyone can subscribe (for free) to the Chronicle of Higher Education- if you’re looking for a reason, this article is worth reading (linked below). I’ve captured a few quotes/highlights below, but as a HS4CC parent, understanding when and why a credit won’t transfer is the KEY to navigating the process expertly.

The Transfer Maze, Chronicle of Higher Education

^My quoted sections below are from this article.

“Transfer students painfully come to learn that American higher education is not really a system at all, but a patchwork of competing entities.”

This is relevant in the biggest of ways, because your teen is likely collecting college credits from an institution that is NOT the institution where they’ll earn a degree. Understanding that those 2 colleges may NOT be interested in working together is the first step in being able to get those credits to count.

Parents often ask “will it transfer” which sounds innocent enough, and is a decent question, but the question we ask at HS4CC is if it will be disqualified from transfer. That’s a different question, one that redirects you away from being hopeful and instead looks at the aspects of transfer that we KNOW will trip up students.

In addition to the things we already know about (different accreditation, below 100-level, CEU vs credit, in-state to out-of-state, crossing state lines, etc.) the article highlights the “less measurable” factors at play, mainly:

  • institutional self-interest
  • the attitudes of individual faculty members
  • the individual interactions between advisers and students
  • the compatibility of something as seemingly inconsequential as course names and numbers.

You’ll notice that the barriers really are not focused on the quality of the course – which is what many people assume is the problem. Parents always ask “is it a good school?” or “how will it look if English 101 comes from the community college?” all questions surrounding quality.

Is it as simple as being a money grab? I don’t think so- and the reason I don’t think so is because individuals who help make the decisions don’t necessarily see “more money” if they deny your teen’s transfer credit. It’s more nuanced than that.

“It’s a significant chokepoint in the education pipeline and one of the primary reasons 40.4 million Americans are stranded with some college and no degree. To understand why so many students fail to earn a diploma, you need to start by looking at just how difficult it is to transfer credits from one institution to another.

“At four-year institutions, a lot of offices have a hand in transfer, but no one really owns it. The admissions office and the registrar typically establish the framework for student intake and processing transfer credits.”

“Course numbering is one of those bureaucratic conventions in higher education that few people notice. But it can play a big part in how students move through the system, and it can be gamed to offer advantages to a college. The specifics vary among institutions, but the numbering system is supposed to be set up logically: Most commonly, 100- and 200-level courses form the “lower division” offerings, composed of introductory courses for freshmen and sophomores, while 300- and 400-level courses are considered more advanced, “upper division” courses for juniors, seniors, and graduate students. (Those numbers could be in the thousands, or follow some other pattern.)”

(see the article for a deep dive into course numbers- this is a very interesting and relevant topic for students who will earn 30-60 college credits in high school)

In Illinois, there is legislation being proposed to tighten up the transfer process, which sounds good, but it leaves a huge loophole that is easy to manipulate if the university wants to stop credits from coming in.

“The bill’s revisions left in a loophole that would maintain a course-numbering snag for students: ‘If the receiving institution does not offer the course or does not offer it at the lower-division level, the student shall receive elective lower-division major credit toward the requirements of the major for the course and may be required to take the course at the upper-division level.’ In other words, that 100- or 200-level course from a community college could be worth only elective credit if the receiving four-year institution offers the course only at the 300 level or above.”
“Talk to experts, and they describe how the barriers to transfer are propped up by skewed incentives and a lack of resources.”

“John Fink, a researcher at the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College, studies the barriers that low-income and minority students face. Over the past 10 to 15 years, he says, advocates for transfer students have tried to set up “equivalency tools,” like articulation agreements, or to push state governments to force colleges to accept the courses. “Then what you saw was just a lot of monkey business, for lack of a better term” — with institutions saying they would accept courses, “but we won’t apply it to your major or we’ll count it as a general elective,” Fink says.”

As you think about your teen’s college degree, don’t think about how you’ll get them in, that’s the easy part. Instead, think about how you’ll get them out. Graduation is a significant problem, 10x the problem of admissions, yet parents rarely think about it like that. The quote above (bold) highlights the manipulation, but let me add that of the 120 credits your teen needs to graduate, you’ll still pay full price for electives, so if your teen enrolls with 21 credits and they are all demoted into the “elective” bucket, that’s only a problem if they didn’t need electives. If they need electives, then it’s still a good transfer! The big question is whether or not the credits are counted in the way you expected them to be counted, and that’s where a little bit of education/information can pay off big for your teen.

“In addition, some colleges complicate transfer with arrogance about their own rankings, status, and pedagogy — the notion that a four-year university teaches courses more rigorously or effectively than the community college down the road. In reality, there is often no support for that claim, as four-year institutions typically do not conduct course assessments at community colleges. And who’s to say that a course taught by a full-time professor at a community college is of lower quality compared with a course taught by a graduate assistant or contingent faculty member at a research university?”

“Ideally, advisers at the community-college level would help students identify where they want to be at the end of a four-year program, and then design their undergraduate-degree paths backwards…training that advisers typically do not get.”

Bold emphasis mine. To underscore, your teen’s advisor is not liable for planning errors. Simply put, if a course doesn’t transfer or doesn’t count towards a degree “too bad so sad” and your student still has to make up the deficiency. Homeschooling parents make the best guidance counselors because you care the most, have a vested interest in their current academic success, a vested interest in their future outcomes (they’re your kid!) that a paid college employee will never have. Advocate for them, no one else is going to!

“Some students experienced minor hiccups in transfer — but their stories revealed how they had to advocate for themselves. Cecelia Jiardina, who graduated this year, transferred to UIS, majoring in business and minoring in philosophy, with plans to go into law. When she transferred, she had to point out to an adviser that she had already taken a required ethics course at Lincoln Land and could petition for it. ‘I just kind of assumed at the time that they would look at the courses I took and apply them where necessary,’ Jiardina says, ‘but further on in my education at UIS, I kind of realized that they weren’t doing that.‘”

Read more about transfer credits and how to help your student be successful

Will it Transfer?

“Which college classes should my high school student should take?” and “How can I make sure they will transfer later?” are the two top questions I answer in emails or our many Facebook groups. College credit in high school is rarely guaranteed to transfer, but if you use the same filters I use when picking…


Executive Director of Homeschooling for College Credit