This was the title of a paper (Crosta and Kopko, 4/2014, Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University) that poses a broad question, but even in the opening abstract, narrows the definition to “…earning a transfer-oriented associate degree.” When did researchers begin using unrelated rhetorical questions for paper titles? A better title would have been “Community College Students Who Earn Transfer Oriented AA Degrees Are More likely to Earn a BA/BS”.

In 2010, SB 1440 required California community colleges and CSU’s to create transfer oriented degrees.   In the introduction of their article, the authors site a conclusion from another study that is at the crux of the problems inherent with some of California Associate Degrees for Transfer (ADT):

“…more credits can delay bachelor’s degree completion if those credits do not properly transfer to the receiving institution. In theory, earning an associate degree before transfer should propel a student toward successful baccalaureate completion (any Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science), unless a longer period of study at the community college acts to slow the student down or puts the student on a less efficient pathway.” (The underline and bold are mine.)

The current problem with certain California ADT’s is indeed the ‘extra’ courses students are required to take to earn those degrees. Now, to be clear, they are not ‘extra’ to certain CSU’s, as the CSU guarantees no more than 60 units to complete the BA after transfer with the ADT, but what of the students trying to keep their options open to transfer to UC, privates and out-of-states? Many of the courses on the current ADT’s are irrelevant to the transfer and graduation requirements of the UC’s, privates and out-of-states.

My bias when counseling, training counselors or talking to colleges that want a relationship with SMC, is to make sure that the coursework students are counseled to take at SMC will be degree applicable at the receiving institution, minimizing the time to degree after transferring. Again, the authors site another study that dovetails with my statement above:

“Doyle (2006), for instance, found that 82 percent of students who were able to utilize all of their pre-transfer credits graduated within six years of transfer, as compared with only 42 percent of their peers who were unable to use all of their pre-transfer credits at their four-year institution.”

But the next line by the authors Crosta and Kopko is a leap to a conclusion that makes no sense:

“These studies lend some support to the theory that earning an associate degree before transferring improves degree progress post-transfer.” (page 5)

Wrong!! Utilizing all of their pre-transfer credits is what helps them graduate in a timely manner, not an associate degree. Now, if we can create an associate degree that allows students to utilize all of their pre-transfer credits, to CSU, UC, privates and out-of-states and countries, I am all for it. But until such time, be aware of the limitations when discussing ‘transfer AA’s’.

By Dan Nannini