Not All Articulation Agreements are Good for Students

This past fall an article in Inside Higher Ed described what initially sounds like an articulation agreement that could be wonderful for students: “a new partnership, called 3+1, between [Rowan College at Burlington County, a community college, and Rowan University], which allows students to remain on the community college campus while earning a Rowan University degree.  Participating students also get a 15 percent discount and are placed in guided degree pathways from the two-year institution that lead to a bachelor’s degree from the university.”

However, the article goes on to state that this “new program…has prompted the community college to limit any advertisements or promotion for other four-year colleges and universities on its campus.  RCBC will not host transfer fairs or information tables for other four-year programs.”

A bachelor’s-degree college or university, such as Rowan, can see itself as giving up something in making one of these agreements because it has less opportunity to refuse to transfer credits when a student transfers in, and thus less opportunity to earn revenue from transfer students.  However, such an agreement, particularly if it involves essentially eliminating the marketing of Rowan’s competitors, can give Rowan a leg up in obtaining transfer students as compared to other competing bachelor’s-degree institutions.  Giving up some credits may be worth it if, as a result, you get more students.

But what happens to students who, for reasons such as geographical constraints or subject matter interest (e.g., Rowan does not have majors in Anthropology or Architecture), don’t want to transfer to Rowan after completing their associate’s degrees?  It appears that the information that these students will have about other options will be limited, and they will have to do more to find their way in the transfer maze.  Perhaps there are few RCBC graduates who would prefer a bachelor’s-degree institution other than Rowan.  In that case, perhaps RCBC is doing the best thing that it can for the majority of its students in making this agreement, which could significantly help those RCBC graduates who want to attend Rowan to attain bachelor’s degrees.

Even so, it is unfortunate that what is good for each and every student is not the only criterion shaping these policies—that, due to existing incentive structures, self-protection and self-interest inevitably come to play in interactions between independently operating institutions, as they do in other areas of academe.

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