WHY STANDARDS MATTER. Inside Higher Ed takes up community college articulation.

“There is an assumption about community college students that they went there because they couldn’t get into a better four-year school,” says Joshua Wyner, vice president of programs with the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, which is highly focused on community college student development. “That assumption is simply false in many cases.”

Wyner says that many “traditional” students – those who enter four-year elites directly from high school – will have their misplaced notions challenged. Research commissioned by the Cooke Foundation has shown that transfer students to selective institutions tend to graduate at similar rates and have similar grade-point averages at four-year institutions as those students who begin as freshmen.

It's the motivation that matters more than the credentials. Northern Illinois's internal research suggests third-year community college transfer students do at least as well as those who began here. The university has tried a number of things to make the first- and second-year programs distinctive so as to encourage more initial enrollments.

The University of Wisconsin at Madison is one of the latest places where students have expressed concerns about community college transfers. Last month, the institution announced an articulation agreement that will make it easier for Madison Area Technical College students to transfer into the institution for their junior and senior years. As part of the agreement, students must complete 54 credits in the community college’s Liberal Arts Transfer Program and those who receive a 3.0 GPA will be guaranteed admission. Students who receive a 2.6–2.99 GPA will receive “special consideration,” according to the university.

Some students have argued that credits garnered at a community college shouldn’t equate to the rigors of UW’s curriculum, and that community college students should not be given any unique consideration. “I think it’s kind of a slap in the face,” Erica Christenson, chair of the College Republicans, recently told The Badger Herald student newspaper. “To be completely honest, I didn’t come home last night from the library because of all the work [I had to complete] … and I would like to think the GPA I receive here is different from one received at MATC.” Christensen couldn’t be reached for comment for further elaboration, but her comments have set off discussion on campus.

“There’s definitely a snob mentality at Wisconsin that we’re better than other schools,” says Terri Wipperfurth, who transferred from the technical college and is currently a student at UW. “People sometimes think of us as slime creeping under the door.”

Unless Madison Tech deals in more inflated grades or less demanding courses than Wisconsin, there ought not be a problem. It's not unknown for students to transfer to Wisconsin from, say, the Green Bay campus, or from Marquette, or from Creighton after two years. The onus, then, ought to be on the universities and colleges less well-recognized than Wisconsin to offer a similar intellectual challenge, something which might prevent those institutions from losing motivated students who perceive more of a challenge elsewhere.

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