TTU hosts work session to help ease tudent transfer from community colleges

Tennessee Tech University last week was host to more than 20 officials from various community colleges who met on campus to discuss possible ways of making it easier for two-year students to transfer to TTU's College of Education.

A total of 127 two-year students transferred to TTU's College of Education last year to pursue a bachelor's degree, and many of them were forced to repeat courses similar to ones they'd already completed at the community college level because of outdated "articulation agreements."

Articulation agreements between educational institutions determine which courses are transferable, but outdated agreements often force schools to look at each transfer on a time-consuming, course-by-course basis.

"We have a different agreement with each community college because each community college has a different curriculum," said Rebecca Tolbert, TTU's associate vice president of Academic Affairs and recruitment management. "Most of the agreements are three to four years old, and TTU's student requirements have changed since then."

But she and other higher education officials say they hope that by working together they can create a cohesive community college curriculum with a common articulation agreement to be revised regularly.

Their model in that effort is a plan approved recently by the Maryland Higher Education Commission which created an Associate of Arts in Teaching degree that is required to transfer seamlessly to every public and private university in the state.

Heading Maryland's initiative was Dr. Ellyn McLaughlin, director of teacher education at Anne Arundel Community College, and she was here last week to help Tennessee education leaders devise their own specific plan.

"It's getting to the point that if community colleges and four-year universities don't work together, then the government or someone else is going to come in and make you do it," she said.

Darrell Garber, TTU's Dean of Education, said he liked the Maryland plan because it seems sensible based on his experience with the public school system.

"Since my background is in the public schools, I have always felt that moving from a community college to a four-year college should be similar to moving from junior high school to high school or like moving from elementary school to middle school," he said.

In addition to making the transition smoother for students and saving time for university and community college personnel, however, a plan similar to Maryland's could also help students be better prepared for their chosen area of study.

"If Tennessee's community colleges use the Maryland model to develop the Associate of Arts in Teaching, then students will have a clearer idea of their curriculum, and they can come (to the university) with that entire block of coursework," Garber said.

Marvin Barker, TTU's vice president of Academic Affairs, described the Maryland plan as the wave of the future.

"All disciplines are or will be working with other institutions to make transfer more efficient and effective," he said. "In my opinion, anything that makes the process smoother and less ambiguous for the student keeps the student engaged and enrolled — and that is best for everyone."

Garber agreed, saying, "If students smoothly transition, then they tell friends — and in education, where majors are most likely to attend their closest university, word of mouth is very important."