Last updated: February 20. 2014 9:18PM - 783 Views
Emery P. Dalesio Associated Press

Dr. Dale McInnis
Dr. Dale McInnis
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RALEIGH (AP) — North Carolina’s far-ranging higher education system is expected to finalize a deal Friday that would eliminate red lights along the paths of students wishing to transfer.

The University of North Carolina Board of Governors and the State Board of Community Colleges are scheduled to sign an agreement easing the way for students to transfer between 58 community college and 16 public university campuses across North Carolina without losing class credits.

Credit transfer agreements have been updated periodically between the two systems for nearly two decades. Many of the state’s private colleges also accept community college credits under the same guidelines.

The issue was one of six key points Richmond Community College President Dale McInnis focused on during a Feb. 10 legislative forum with local lawmakers at RCC’s campus in Hamlet.

McInnis said it has always been an issue that some courses taken at a community college would not transfer to four-year universities, most notably the courses targeted to freshmen and sophomore students. With the introduction of the new Comprehensive Articulation Agreement, that should be approved in March by the UNC Board of Governors and the N.C. State Board of Community Colleges, universities and community colleges should be able to work a bit closer together.

McInnis said that the last agreement was in 1997 and that the new agreement will help tackle some of the problems with college credit transfers.

“It will be a big improvement,” McInnis said. “But while it is an improvement, we need to work to make sure the whole K through 16 experience is as seamless as possible. If it’s seamless, then students won’t have any barriers or obstacles while pursuing their education.”

Goodman sees the benefit in creating a more seamless road for students.

“You hear how much it costs to go to college and how students are getting in debt, so it is a good idea for students to get their first two years at a community college and then transfer to a four year system,” Goodman said. “It saves the state money and saves students money.”

McInnis said the perfect solution would be to come up with a common course number system for the community colleges and the universities. This would definitely help smooth over the process.

“It is a long term goal to aspire to,” McInnis said.

The current rules define a general education core of 44 community college credit hours — about three semesters of full-time study — that is fully transferable to UNC schools. Students who transferred before meeting that credit-hour mark with a C grade or better often weren’t allowed to count all their work toward the general education requirements of a bachelor’s degree. That meant taking a similar course again at the university level.

The new rules guarantee that every UNC campus will recognize any or all of 30 semester hours of courses completed with a C or better.

The revised agreement, taking effect with the next academic year in August, also better aligns course requirements in each system.

Cathy Sink, 40, of Thomasville, earned an associate degree in science from Davidson County Community College. But the way the two systems treated major requirements meant some of the courses Sink said she needed for her community college degree weren’t required for the bachelor’s degree in kinesiology she’s now pursuing at UNC-Greensboro.

Instead, the extra community college courses will hurt her because they’ll count toward a cap on course credits beyond which qualifying for financial aid is reduced, said Sink, who so far has been able to stay debt free.

“I will have to have a student loan to finish off my degree,” said Sink, a university senior and married mom who also works full time. Her career goals include providing physical therapy for cardiac or pulmonary patients.

About a quarter of UNC’s undergraduates transferred from some other school, according to the university system; about half of those transferring students — nearly 24,000 — came from a state community college.

“Most of our students do transfer before they earn the associate degree or the 44 hours,” said Scott Ralls, president of the country’s third-largest community college system. “That’s just kind of a way of life. They transfer when that opportunity gets there and our goal is to make sure when they do transfer they’re well on their way to completing that bachelor’s degree and the credits that they are taking are credits they know will transfer and they won’t have to repeat.”

School officials and state lawmakers alike have been pushing for this agreement, because duplicated courses mean both students and the colleges heavily supported by taxpayer money are wasting money. State legislators passed a law last June requiring every UNC campus to follow the transfer agreement fully and for it to be reviewed twice a year to make sure it’s up to date as courses change.

Staff writer Amanda Moss contributed to this story.

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