His latest article, “How Students Can Maximize Their Transfer Credits,” is on the DegreeSight website. It provides some of the clearest and most detailed instructions I have seen for cutting through obstacles that four-year colleges should have removed long ago.
Four-year schools often reject credits students worked hard to earn at community colleges. The four-year schools probably think they are protecting what they consider their treasured reputation for excellence. In reality they waste student time and money without presenting any evidence justifying the annoying and often hidden barriers.
Mullane said that community college transfer students lose more than 30 percent of their accumulated credits when they transfer to four-year schools. This is important since 46 percent of all U.S. undergraduates attend community colleges.
“One of the major reasons schools give for rejecting credits is that they say that the transfer courses are not comparable or as rigorous as the ones offered at their school,” he said in the article. “The schools also say that if the students don’t retake those courses then they won’t be academically prepared to do well in upper division classes.”
“This excuse is simply not true,” he said. “The more credits a student can successfully transfer to a school, the better they do academically and the more likely they are to eventually graduate from that school.”
There has been much talk about making college free. But Mullane said tuition cost is often “not the biggest factor when students decide where to transfer. How many credits a student can successfully transfer and whether or not they can graduate on time seem to be much more important to students. A private college that accepts all your credits may be more affordable in the end than a state university that rejects your credits and delays your graduation. Another factor is the lost wages of spending an extra semester or year in college.”
Mullane unsuccessfully testified before the Connecticut legislature in 2018 in favor of a bill that would have allowed students to transfer all community college credits to the University of Connecticut and the Connecticut state universities. The two big systems opposed that measure, despite research showing that only 6 percent of Connecticut community college students were in a degree program that allowed them to transfer all their credits to state universities.
Leigh Appleby, director of communications for the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, said the two systems have made progress since. He said the portion of community college students in degree programs that transfer all credits to the state universities is up to 17 percent. “We are committed to making the experience as seamless as possible and award credit when credit is earned,” Appleby said. He said many students were unaware of those efforts because of a shortage of advisers, which he said is being corrected.
Overcoming ill-considered transfer rules nationwide takes preparation and persistence, Mullane said. The first step is to prepare a list of personal academic achievements that might earn credits. These include Advanced Placement courses in high school and military credits. Knowledge and training in certain subjects can be demonstrated by taking a College Level Examination Program (CLEP) exam. Hearing about a transfer student’s work or life experience may also count in the minds of college professors who have the final say.
One confusing factor in this process is the difference between general education credits, elective credits and credits that apply to a major. “A trick that colleges use is they say they will accept up to 60 or 90 credits from transfer students, but they give elective credit and not apply it to their major,” Mullane said. That forces the student to take the four-year college’s version of the same course.
Transfer students can appeal such maddening decisions. Mullane said they should compile a file of documents, such as transcripts and course syllabuses, that show what they learned. He said the admission office staffers who make the initial rulings are overworked and have no time for more than a quick decision based on their understanding of the rules.
“If your business courses were rejected, you want to speak with the business department,” Mullane said. Departments can do what is called a course substitution — giving credit toward a major for a course other than the one the rules specify.
“Find out if that department has a designated faculty member that handles transfer students,” Mullane said. “If they don’t then reach out to the department chair.”
That may seem daunting to young college students. But personal encounters with department heads can have unanticipated benefits. If undergraduates prepare well for such meetings and demonstrate a good grasp of the subject, that favorable impression can affect how those professors treat them in the future in other ways.
Administrators might be willing to have the student provide a portfolio of prior knowledge or experience. Some professors are as impatient with time-wasting credit rules as transfer students are.
More than 36 million U.S. adults have attended college, earned credits but dropped out without earning a degree. Many of them were probably frustrated with the rules. Developing a skill for tracking down rulemakers and asking politely for help can lead to success in many other aspects of life.