Recently, the Sun Journal ran a front page feature on college transfer. While I found the piece to be factually accurate, I wanted to offer more on a subject that is critically important to our students and easily misunderstood.

College transfer is both much easier and more complicated than you would expect. Students frequently ask us, “Is this course transferable?” The answer is usually, “Yes.”

Among regionally accredited colleges and universities, most courses transfer, and in many instances the transfer is easy and seamless. For instance, when a student enrolls in a specific program of study at one of Maine’s community colleges and knows what institution and program of study they want to transfer into, one of our professional advisors can work with them to virtually guarantee a seamless transfer with no loss of credit. Two years of study at a community college, two years at a university and the student graduates with a baccalaureate degree in four years.

The transfer process gets more complicated when a student has yet to declare a major, changes majors, or is unsure about where they want to transfer. For example, while drafting courses may be “transferable,” they are not likely to fit into or count toward a nursing degree. That’s a dramatic example but an important point, considering the fact many students come to community colleges unsure of what they want to study.

It is not uncommon for someone to start out majoring in general studies and then — through coursework and conversations with faculty and advisors — to identify a new, focused area of interest. That is, of course, all to the good, but it’s a little bit like what happens when you drive down one road and then change direction and head down another. The change in direction means that it takes longer to get to your destination. In much the same way, changing degree programs often means that a student will need to take more courses before reaching his or her goal.

Additionally, many of the two-year programs offered at our colleges are not intended for transfer. These technical programs — in areas like automotive technology, machine tool technology, and electronics technology — are designed to prepare people to immediately enter the workforce when they complete their two-year degree.

Occasionally, after experiencing college and taking a program of this nature, students decide they want to obtain a four-year degree. As a result, many schools have designed four-year degree programs for students who have previously graduated from a technical program. But technical courses are not apt to be a universal fit as this is not the purpose for which they were designed.

Maine’s community colleges take their role in helping students reach their educational goals seriously and have worked hard with other colleges and universities across the state to build seamless transfer systems. One indication of our success in this area: the number of students transferring from our community colleges to the University of Maine System has increased 50 percent, to 2,500 students in 2008, over just six years.

There is, of course, more work to do in this area. Providing more curriculum information on the Web, strengthening and further clarifying the pathways between programs of study, and expanding course equivalency tables will all improve the transfer process.

Regardless of how good our transfer systems and procedures are, students’ individual circumstances will always play a part in determining how quickly and easily they are able to move from one institution to another.

The key to seamless and successful transfer lies in careful planning and solid academic advising. The state’s community colleges and most of the four-year universities employ people who are specialized in advising students about transfer. Seeing these people early on to get precise information will generally result in a smooth transfer with no loss of credit.

I have worked for community colleges in three states, and-hands down — Maine is the state that does best by students seeking to transfer from one institution to another. Most of the colleges and universities in this state want the transfer process to work and are committed to helping students achieve their goals. More than changes in bureaucratic rules, procedures or structures, it is this positive spirit and commitment to individual students that will help strengthen an already strong and successful transfer process.

Scott Knapp is president of Central Maine Community College. E-mail: [email protected]

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