Vertical College Transfer – From Community College to University


Credit transfer between a college (2-year institution) and a university (4-year institution) is referred to as vertical transfer. Credit transfer between community college and university is one of the most common types of credit transfer and one of the most efficient ones. It is the most common one because most articulation or institutional transfer agreements cover it. It is efficient because credit loss is minimal during the transfer process.

Transferring between public institutions adds to the efficiency. Transferring from a public community college to a private university is also a possibility, but it can present its own set of challenges because public and private institutions fall under different types of governance systems, policies, and agreements.

Plus, vertical transfer between public institutions within the same state works best when students follow the 2+2 path. The 2+2 path implies that a student completes the degree at the community college and graduates with an Associated of Arts(AA) and then transfers the credits associated with the degree into the new institution. In this case the student is likely to transfer all or the vast majority of credits earned at the community college into the university.

Let’s consider two students to illustrate vertical transfer efficiency. Student A completed their AA degree at a public community college and wants to transfer into a public university within the same state.  Now let’s take student B who also attends a community college, but did not complete the AA degree and does not intend to complete it. Similar with student A, student B, wants to transfer into a public university within the same state to complete their bachelor degree. Both the community college and the university are covered by some type of transfer agreement (articulation or institutional).

Both students will need to seek admission into the university. Once admitted student A is likely to transfer all the credits earned through the AA into the university because s/he completed their AA degree. Consequently, student A will start at the university as a junior and needs to complete two more years of credits. In other words, student A is very likely to transfer all 60 credits associated with the lower level courses earned as part of the AA into the destination university and start their university experience as a Junior student, or continue their education into the upper division course work. Under this scenario student A has to complete the remaining 60 credit hours associated with a typical bachelor degree (the length of a typical bachelor degree is 120 credits, with a few exceptions). Therefore, student A realizes savings through the transfer process because this student ends up paying lower tuition and fees for each of the credit hours completed at the public college and then enters the university as a Junior student and has to pay the corresponding tuition and fees (at university level) for the remaining 60 credit hours. In specific terms, if the tuition per credit hour at the community college is $100 per credit hour and at the university $150 per credit hour the total amount spent in tuition (fees excluded) for 60 credit hours at the community college and university is 60*$100 + 60*$150= $6,000+$9,000= $15,000 for a bachelor degree.

Now let’s consider student B. Student B started at the community college, took 55 credit hours, but never graduated with a degree. Student B now decides to transfer to the public university and continue their education towards a bachelor degree. So because of a lack of a degree when student B decides to transfer from the community college to university, the university can pick which credits it accepts during the transfer process. Because of that student B has little control over the transfer process and may end up paying twice for the same courses. For the sake of the argument let’s assume the university accepted through the transfer process 40 credit hours out of the 55 intended. Student B would enter the university as a sophomore and would have to take 80 more credits at the university to complete a bachelor degree. Plus, it should be noted that losing more than 9 credit hours during the transfer process roughly equates with losing semester worth of course work. This delays graduation and hence delay the potential to earn income. Therefore, the actual cost per bachelor degree for student B assuming the same tuition rates as for student A is 40*$100 + 15*$100 + 80*$150 = $4,000 + $1,500 + $12,000= $17,500 plus an extra semester delay in graduation equating additional costs and loss in salary. As before, fees and attendance costs ale left out of these calculations since they can vary widely from institution to institution.

However, the majority of students that engage in vertical transfer do so without completing an Associate of Arts degree. Following the student B scenario makes college more expensive because credit loss during transfer carries significant costs.

Inability to transfer all the credits completed at one institution to another one delays graduation, entry into the job market, and the ability to realize a return on the college education investment. Each additional year spent in college can cost up to $50,000 ($20,000 in tuition, fees, and living expenses, as well as $30,000 in foregone income) and $150,000 over a person’s lifetime.

In conclusion:

(1) vertical transfer works best between institutions covered by articulation or institutional transfer agreements. More public institutions tend to be covered by articulation agreements than private ones, but it is worth looking into their transfer agreements. To find out more about articulation and institutional transfer agreements go to post.

(2) try to complete a degree (preferably an associate of arts) at the sending institution prior to attempting to transfer to the destination institution. Under this scenario credit transfer should be easier and all or the vast majority of credits should transfer into the destination institution (college or university).



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