Articulation Agreements Term Paper

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¶ … Agreements and community college enrollment

An Analysis of Articulation Agreements and Their Impact on Community College Enrollment

By 1999, thirty-four states had developed statewide articulation agreements that are designed to facilitate student transfer from community colleges (Ignash & Townsend, 2000). Properly administered, articulation agreements can provide students with the framework they need to ensure they receive credit for coursework accomplished at community colleges while providing the receiving institutions with the reassurance they require to grant such credit; improperly performed, though, these agreements can actually do more harm than good. To determine how they are intended to operate in practice, this paper provides an overview of articulation agreements and their impact on community college enrollment in general, with an emphasis on North Carolina community colleges in particular. An analysis of the relevant literature is followed by a summary of research in the conclusion.

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To help facilitate students transfer, a number of states have adopted the "documents approach" which "emphasizes the development and ongoing maintenance of formal or official agreements related to course equivalencies, articulated 2 + 2 programs, legislative or state agency policies related to transfer, and perhaps statistical reports about student transfer, persistence, and academic performance" (Bers, 1994, p. 249). In deregulated state school systems, individual schools may have the responsibility for establishing articulation agreements about which courses, programs, and degrees will transfer from one institution to a receiving institution; however, in more regulated systems, states may provide some general guidelines and incentives for institutions to develop these agreements. "In a highly regulated system," the authors note, "the state may mandate that the associate of arts degree be accepted at all state institutions, as in Florida, for example" (Ignash & Townsend, 2000, p. 1). In this regard, Gerdeman points out that articulation agreements are increasingly being used by states to specify which courses and curricular requirements students must follow in order to transfer between partner institutions. "Historically," he says, "students who completed education courses at community colleges faced difficulties in transferring credits into teacher education programs at baccalaureate institutions" (Gerdeman, 2001, p. 62). This point is also made by Striplin (2000), who reports that while articulation agreements can facilitate the transfer process, four-year institutions continue to dominate the process: "These institutions dictate what they will accept for transfer, and when they alter their graduation requirements, community colleges must respond in their own curricula" (Striplin, 2000, p. 67).

The results of a study by Glass and Bunn (1998, cited in Striplin), determined that more than half (56.8%) of the respondents believed that the loss of academic credit was a problem when asked to describe barriers or obstacles to transfer; furthermore, almost two-thirds (63.4%) of the respondents had to complete more than 72 credit hours at the senior institution following their transfer. In an effort to resolve these constraints, a few initiatives have been introduced to improve the articulation between two- and four-year institutions. For example, some community colleges with high transfer rates have adopted a common course numbering system that corresponds to that used by local four-year institutions; however, the overriding problem continues to concern the reluctance of many four-year institutions to accept some community college credits (Striplin, 2000).

Constraints to Developing Effective Articulation Agreements.

The role of the community college in the baccalaureate education process has traditionally been associated with the first two years of college; therefore, state policies and articulation agreements have focused on connecting a prescribed sequence of lower-division courses at the community college with upper-division courses at four-year institutions (Cejda, 1999). In their traditional roles, community colleges provide a starting point to higher education; community college students earn at least 12 credit hours at the community college, then transfer to a four-year institution to complete a bachelor's degree (Cejda, 1999). This role recognizes that a substantial percentage of American students will begin their higher education and complete a substantial number of credits at the community college; 12 credit hours has been established as the minimal equivalent of full-time enrollment for one semester, as a basis for classifying a student as a community college transfer (Cejda, 1999).

The basis for this approach has been that most students will follow a "two-plus-two" road to completing their associate's degree at the community college and then a bachelor's degree at a four-year institution (Palmer, Lugwig, & Stapleton, 1994). According to Baker, Dudziak and Tyler (1994), articulation agreements help to manage the transfer of students from one school to another in these settings; this model is administrative and bureaucratic and is intended to respond to the issues of what is required to be accomplished institutionally to ensure that transfers are effected efficiently. Based on the studies conducted to date, though, there remains a paucity of evidence that articulation agreements have had a significant positive impact on transfer. In this regard, Baker et al. advise that, "There is no consistent positive correlation between institutions with high transfer rates and articulation agreements. At most, based on the evidence available, we can maintain that articulation agreements may help and do not harm transfer" (p. 35). In fact, to the extent that preoccupation with articulation agreements precludes other institutional actions that might strengthen transfer, such agreements may actually be counterproductive (Baker et al., 1994).

Furthermore, there is a growing body of anecdotal evidence that suggests articulation agreements do not adequately address the fundamental problem that confronts most students upon transferring: receiving equivalent credit at the receiving senior institution for the coursework they completed at the community college. According to Baker and his colleagues, "Articulation agreements are more likely to ensure that a certain number of credits will be accepted and not that specific course work will be accepted. This results in students having useless credits in some areas and being forced to retake courses" (p. 35). In the final analysis, these authors believe that the benefit of an articulation agreement for a student rests upon the faculty decision-making process concerning course acceptance; unfortunately, many articulation agreements are currently unable to provide the assurance the faculty requires to make this determination (Baker et al., 1994).

In North Carolina, there is already fierce competition for space at community colleges in the form of for-profit colleges; according to Tony Zeiss, president of Central Piedmont Community College in North Carolina: "Yes, there is competition for community colleges, and it's spelled with a capital 'P' for proprietary colleges" (in Outcalt & Shirmer, 2003, p. 57). Therefore, providing students with an effective framework in which to pursue baccalaureate programs and beyond assumes increasing importance in North Carolina in particular. The results of an analysis by Cedja (1999) of a liberal arts college in North Carolina found that virtually half of the students had attended community colleges, a rate that was more than twice as much as that reported for private institutions in an entire state. "Moreover, the study also supports the call for multiple indicators regarding the effectiveness of the transfer mission of community colleges. If two-plus-two is assumed as the transfer mission, then effectiveness could certainly be questioned as less than 1% of the graduates in this study followed this path" (Cejda, 1999, p. 2).


The research showed that articulation agreements are intended to facilitate the transition of students between high schools and community colleges, and provide explicit instructional goals and skills standards for courses of study at both educational levels. To date, at least 34 states, including North Carolina and Texas, have developed statewide articulation agreements for these purposes and to increase the number of college-going students and save education costs and degree time (Townsend & Twombly, 2001). The main benefits to be derived from articulation agreements, though, depend on whether students take advantage of them by continuing their course of study at community colleges and applying the college credit earned… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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Articulation Agreements.  (2005, October 8).  Retrieved September 20, 2020, from

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"Articulation Agreements."  October 8, 2005.  Accessed September 20, 2020.