The transportable college credit act

My Computer Science degree has Arnold Schwarzenegger's Autograph

The taxpayers help fund it- why not treat college credits like public currency? James LeVeque via Compfight

I’ve been watching a movement that started in the UK- that has huge implications for the parent company of LexisNexis, Reed Elsevier. It seems a university researcher started wondering why research paid for with government funds was being sold back to the government by the “scientific press” at extraordinary expense in the form of “professional journals.” His university was spending millions to buy back i-s own research.

Now that we have the Internet, the costs of publishing has dropped dramatically, yet the costs of these peer-reviewed publications hasn’t. It’s all about cache and tradition.

We have another case of similar bs going on right here in the Miami Valley. While everyone is told that Sinclair College is an amazing value and a great way to earn an associate’s degree and then transfer to a four-year school to get a bachelors, it doesn’t quite work out as smoothly as we’d like to believe.

Example. Non-traditional student (single mom, with 2 kids, coming back to school at 29 for a career change) graduates with honors from Sinclair in Visual Communications and the internship with LexisNexis turns into a job. At first, income is low, and UD subsidizes its ridiculously high tuition and LexisNexis provides support and school is relatively affordable. After 2 years in school part time, scheduling gets tougher and income has risen and now tuition skyrockets. Also, federal financial assistance drops.

Investigate transfer to Wright State. Admissions says wonderful, send transcripts, and we’ll talk. Tuition is considerably lower and scheduling around work schedule is easier. Then, the rejection. “You have to complete a “majority of your coursework at our school to get your degree, we’re not going to accept all of your credits.” Wait I say, these credits were financed mostly by us- with the goal of creating a college graduate. In another case of “you didn’t build this” the Universities seem to forget where a large proportion of their funding comes from- the taxpayers.

How many different ways do we subsidize public and private universities? The list is endless:

  • In the case of public universities- we build the buildings, we pay the staff, we make grants to students, we supply students with low-interest loans and of course, we don’t charge the schools property taxes (and in the case of Sinclair- we directly financed their debt-free school- the only public school with zero debt in Ohio, with our property taxes).
  • In the case of UD (or any private school)- guess what, we don’t build the buildings (although we give huge tax breaks to GE when it builds a building on the UD campus) we don’t pay the staff directly (although through research grants, and funding student loans and grants we subsidize their pay) and yes- they don’t pay property taxes either.

We have a huge investment in public higher education. If the government got out of subsidizing higher-ed, no one would be able to afford it except the very rich and the smartest who would be sponsored by industry who need the brains to continue.

So with the new focus on improving graduation rates at public schools, why are we treating college credits paid for in large part with public dollars as a private currency only good at an individual school? Just like we have the laws protecting interstate commerce and creating a common currency to enable trade and growth- why are college credits treated as proprietary property of schools that are paid in largely by the public? Why do college credits expire? My on-the-job experience doesn’t expire in the real world? Why aren’t college credits, as long as they are bestowed by an accredited institution, fully portable and without an expiration date?

In a free market economy, people are supposed to be able to move to where the jobs are, competition is supposed to be stoked by market forces competing without artificial restrictions. Competitive expertise is supposed to be highly valued and accessible without artificial barriers put in place- so why can’t I learn my physics from MIT, my humanities from Harvard and my English lit from Dennison if I so choose? Why can’t I assemble an education that meets a single standard- a set number of credits in an accredited sequence from any accredited school and gain a diploma? I can build almost anything else in the world with suppliers from across the globe- why not my own education?

While the idea of a degree from Harvard having more value than one from Hiram, in the end, it’s what you do with your knowledge that counts, not where the degree came from. We’re questioning the value that higher education is providing more and more these days- and don’t have to look far to see college drop-outs making it to the “proverbial top”  – Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg  (there is a wikipedia page to Harvard drop- outs that “made it” that’s quite interesting).

Considering we’re well into the “information age” why are we still holding on to traditions from the 17th century when it comes to education? It’s time to re-invent higher ed with a simple change- if your institution accepts public money, it must accept all accredited college credit no matter where it comes from or when. We’re investing in people- not pomp and circumstance, and if you earned your credit at Sinclair/UD/WSU there is no reason you can’t graduate with a degree from the University of US- the taxpayer, we helped fund it.

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5 Responses

  1. TG September 2, 2012 / 9:25 am
    I find the concept of utilizing multiple sources to customize a degree rather intriguing. It makes sense when you realize different schools have different strengths, and different faculty. If the best Econ prof happens to be at UD then take Econ there, but maybe WSU has the best Finance person

    I thought the “Ohio University System” put forth under Fingerhut (?) when he was Chancellor was going to address the issue of transfer-ability of credits?

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  2. truddick September 2, 2012 / 10:04 am
    The old silliness lives on.  When I taught at UC Clermont, I learned that graduates of that 2-year extension campus generally learned they could not transfer their credits to the main campus of UC.  That was true for all of UC’s two-year components, including their evening college where generally the courses were taught by the same professors with the same texts and materials as in the four-year college of arts and sciences.  So quite a few two-year graduates of UC branches wound up transferring to Northern Kentucky U, where the transfer policy was not so stupid.

    Ohio, of course, does not have one system of higher education–it has a little of every system ever invented.  Branch campuses, independent community colleges, technical colleges, universities, and the half-private/half-public/half alligator concoction called Rio Grande.  Some university branches and  technical colleges share a campus but maintain separate administrations.  We follow the same schizophrenic approach when trying to fix transfer.

    The”Ohio Transfer Module” guarantees that about 2/3 of general education courses will transfer among all public colleges and universities (tho’ some of the more stuck-up universities like Miami U have been resistant).  The “Transfer Assurance Guides” guarantee the same for selected early courses in many majors.  And the “Course Applicability System” is a big computer database that tracks which schools have accepted which courses for transfer so that the schools cannot then refuse to accept them at a later date.

    Other states do it more simply and effectively.  Florida, for example, uses a state-wide course numbering system.  Any school may develop any courses and program requirements it thinks are proper; the state reviews all courses and assigns a course number–if the course is essentially the same as other existing courses, it gets the same number.  With very few exceptions, if you take a course, it transfers–all levels.

    BTW David, about Harvard–a few years back a researcher named Stacy King looked at students who were accepted to Ivy League colleges.  She compared the ones who finished a degree at the Ivies vs. those who chose instead to attend a less prestigious school.  She found that there was no difference in their professional success–except in the case of a few highly reputed programs like Harvard Law or Yale School of Drama.

    I try to advise students to get the cheapest college degree possible from a fully-accredited institution.  For most, that begins at a public community college and finishes at a public university.  With excellent financial aid, that might mean a pricey private university.  And, of course, there are those who don’t need to worry about money for whom UD is a destination–but UD grads will not be notably more successful as similar grads from WSU. 

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  3. David Esrati September 2, 2012 / 11:05 am

    @TG – Unfortunately, I don’t think Eric Fingerhut got to finish his work here.
    @truddick as usual- thank you for sharing your knowledge and wisdom.
    I think the Florida model should be rolled out nationwide, and that any school that accepts any federal dollars should have to comply. As to who “awards” the degree- as you point out- for the most part, it’s not as important as people think (this coming from a branding expert) – what counts is completion and knowledge ostensibly. For as much as we spend in education- let’s start maximizing completions- by any means necessary.

    Despite the “prestige” factor of any degree- an old joke comes to mind- “What do they call the guy who graduated at the bottom of his medical school class? Doctor.” What’s most important now is a highly educated workforce that’s not strapped with student debt. This “transportable college credit act” would go a long way to solving this.

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  4. Tom September 11, 2012 / 7:44 am
    It’s time to re-invent higher ed with a simple change- if your institution accepts public money, it must accept all accredited college credit no matter where it comes from or when. 

    I brought this up yesterday with Wright State’s president, suggesting that the institution move towards this as a goal.  It is a laudable goal,  and rather than give you reasons it won’t work in all cases (there will be a few very good reasons why some credits should not transfer), I’ll just say it is a splendid idea.  WSU is working with Sinclair and Clark State to make sure future transfer students are taking courses that will transfer, but this will take some time to work out.  In the meantime, Sinclair/Clark St. students who are thinking of transferring to WSU should contact academic advisors at WSU to ask about what courses will and will not transfer.  It should not have to be this way (but it is), and some legwork on the part of the student can save a lot of money in the long run.

     

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  5. truddick September 14, 2012 / 2:29 pm
    I should mention one school that’s way ahead of the curve.  Bowling Green State U in its catalogue clearly states one of the more sane and generous transfer policies anywhere.  In essence, any college course from any accredited institution transfers with full credit.  If it corresponds to a course offered at BGSU, is counts as that course, no questions.  If there is no equivalent course at BGSU, it counts as a “topics” course in the proper department.  If there is no appropriate department, it counts as “general elective” course.

    So the model that Tom is suggesting is already in place in one Ohio school. 

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