Understanding college and university transfer policies

Understanding college and university transfer policies

by The American Council on Education
Stripes Okinawa

Earning college credit can be accomplished in a number of ways. Some individuals take college-level courses directly. Other students may have professional training or experience that is determined to be equivalent to classroom courses. Based on your military experiences and training, you may have college credit recommendations to apply toward a degree requirement or program of study.

What is transfer credit?
Transfer credit refers to the credit a college or university grants for prior learning. When you move from one college or university to another, the credit from the courses and degrees you took at the old institutions might or might not be accepted by your new institution. Each educational institution makes its own decisions about accepting transfer credit.

How do colleges and universities use American Council on Education (ACE) credit recommendations?
Transfer decisions are most often made by academic deans, department chairs, or chief academic officers (sometimes called provosts). The award of credit is administered by the appropriate office (i.e., admissions, registrar, transfer center, etc.).

In making transfer credit decisions, colleges consider comparability of credit to be transferred to the receiving institution and appropriate applicability of the credit in relation to your selected program of study.

Academic institutions establish their own transfer credit policies and procedures. Institutions look for evidence that the learning you acquired through military training courses or experience directly relates to the objectives of the academic courses the institution offers. For example, if you have a credit recommendation for technical mathematics, you might receive transfer credit for a course with a similar title, but you may not get credit for college algebra.

Your selected program of study will also have a significant impact on the amount and type of credit you may receive. For example, if you have several credit recommendations in electronics, but you are enrolled in a Bachelor of Science in Psychology program, you will find that very few, if any, of these credit recommendations will result in the award of transfer credit. However, even if your credit recommendations are not applicable to your major, you may be able to use them as free elective credit.

When the college or university determines whether and how much credit to apply to your individual record, that credit will then appear on your transcript. Typically, grades are not included with the transfer process, so they are not factored in as part of the grade point average (GPA).

How do ACE credit recommendations and course descriptions compare?
Transferring courses involves determining the direct alignment of specific subject matter to the courses that are part of a detailed curriculum plan. Therefore, a computer applications course will not meet the foreign language requirement of a degree plan. An engineering credit recommendation may not meet the specific requirements of a mathematics course, although math is included with the engineering recommendation.

In the working example below, we compare the typical information included in an ACE credit recommendation for a military course to the information from a college class description:

Typical information included in an ACE credit recommendation for a military training course:
• Credit Recommendation: In the lower-division baccalaureate/associate degree category, 3 semester hours in computer systems applications.
• Learning Outcomes: Upon completion of the course, the student will be able to configure application installation; perform system operation; install software; and perform software analysis.
• Instruction: Computer systems applications topics include computer installation, computer maintenance, computer operation, and software analysis.
Sample information included in a college class titled, “Introduction to Computer Applications”:
• Learning Outcomes: Upon completion of the course, the student will be able to:

– Analyze, synthesize and evaluate numerical data with spreadsheet applications.
– Apply file management skills such as: create, save, copy, move, rename, delete, and organize data files.
– Create a relational database, table structure, queries, reports, and forms.
– Incorporate various types of visual elements such as images, tables, charts, audio, or video for effective communication.
– Organize information by inputting and updating data in a relational database.
– Utilize real-world models and examples to create, format, edit, and print professionally-formatted word-processed documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and databases.

As you can see, both the ACE credit recommendation and the college class description refer to “computer applications,” however what is being taught in the college class does not match what the service member learned in the military training course. Therefore, it is not likely that this example would result in the award of transfer credit.

How do I research transfer policies?
Academic institutions establish their own transfer credit policies and procedures. When you are thinking about transferring credit, you should find out what the institution’s policies are so you can make the most of your credit recommendations. Here are some tips on how to research transfer policies:

• Look at the institution’s catalog or bulletin.
• Search the institution’s website. You may want to search for keywords such as transfer credit, military transfer credit, or transfer policies.
• Keep in mind that in some cases, academic divisions or departments establish supplemental policies on how credit can be applied, how much credit can be transferred, and the nature of credit accepted.
• Look for specific requirements for credit being transferred from:

– Another accredited academic institution.
– The military.
– Professional training.
– Testing.

For general information on transfer policies, read The Joint Statement on the Transfer and Award of Credit at www.acenet.edu/news-room/Pages/Joint-Statement-on-the-Transfer-and-Award-of-Credit.aspx. The Joint Statement was developed by the three national associations whose member institutions are directly involved in the transfer and award of academic credit: the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, the American Council on Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

What are the different types of degree requirements?
Requirements for degrees vary according to the major and minor and help to ensure a student acquires a mastery of a considerable body of knowledge in a specific academic suject area or group of related subjects. Requirements generally include the following types of credits:

• General Education Requirements - The core courses all students must take to graduate. Courses may include communication, mathematics, problem solving, natural sciences, social sciences, humanities, and arts.
• Major Requirements - The courses required to complete a major in the selected field of study.
• Electives - Additional courses in the selected field of study. You may be required to take a certain number of credits in your major, but you can choose which courses to take to fulfill that requirement. Free electives are courses you choose to take outside of your general education requirements and selected major.

What are curriculum maps or degree plans?
A curriculum map or a degree plan spells out the courses you need to take to get a degree in a particular program. You can usually find this information in the institution’s catalog.

This tool will assist you, and your academic adviser, in mapping out the courses you will need to complete for your program of study. It’s also a useful reference in identifying potential courses for transfer.

Some degree plans break down courses into lower-division and upper-division requirements. Others are divided by general education requirements, major requirements, and then electives. Review your curriculum plan and do not hesitate to ask questions.

How much credit can I expect to receive for my military training?
Colleges often have options for students to demonstrate college-level knowledge they’ve gained through prior learning (see www.acenet.edu/news-room/Pages/Adult-Learners-Guide-to-PLA.aspx). Students should check with an adviser, or look in the college’s catalog or website for information about prior learning assessment.

The type and amount of credit awarded depend on several factors:
• The institution’s transfer policies - Some colleges will award credit for military training courses but not for military occupational specialties (MOS). Some award credit for all degree requirements, while others award credit only for free electives. Still others will award credit only for lower-division courses and yet others restrict transfer credit to those recommended at the upper division.
• Appropriateness to your selected major - The military transcript of a student with 12 years of military experience as a computer technician is likely to include several credit recommendations not only in the technical area but also for leadership, management, and supervision. And yet, other students enrolled in what would appear to be similar areas of concentration may not receive the same credit. This normally occurs when there is a gap in comparability between a student’s military training and the academic courses required for the degree. For example, a Bachelor of Science in computer science degree program is unlikely to require courses in computer repair and troubleshooting or technical math. At the same time, these courses may be part of a degree program in electrical or computer engineering technology.
• Currency of training - In some fields, such as computer technology, it matters a great deal when the student acquired the knowledge or took the training. Training completed 10 years ago may no longer be compatible with current college curricula.

How do I appeal a transfer decision?
Most academic institutions have appeal procedures that are explained in their catalogs. Obtain a copy of these policies from your institution.

When you submit an appeal, be specific and concise. Provide supplemental information such as a syllabus, course description, a letter from a faculty member, or a text reference that will support your position and document the learning and credit recommendation alignment. In some cases, you may have to complete a separate form or application. 

Transfer Credit Checklist
A number of factors affect transfer of military credit, such as institutional policy, alignment with appropriate courses, procedures, requirements, and transfer application deadlines.

Here’s a quick checklist to help you transfer credit to a new institution:
• Research and identify an academic institution that meets your needs as an individual and as a learner. You may want to select an institution and academic programs that have policies to maximize your nontraditional learning (military credit, CLEP, DANTES, etc). Start by looking at the ACE Transfer Guide Resources section at www.acenet.edu/news-room/Pages/Transfer-Guide-Resources.aspx.
• Learn about and make sure you understand your academic institution’s policies and procedures regarding transfer of credit. These practices are established by each institution and will vary.
• Audit and review your military transcripts periodically (every 6 months if on active duty) for updates and modifications. Learn more at www.acenet.edu/news-room/Pages/Transcripts-for-Military-Personnel.aspx.
• Start the transcript and transfer review process early, with your application to the institution. Have all of your official transcripts from previous colleges and service branches sent to your new school for evaluation before you start taking any classes. Official copies must bear the appropriate institutional signatures, seal, and date of issuance.
• Speak with your academic adviser. He or she should be able to help you avoid taking classes for which you may receive transfer credit until an official evaluation is completed. Many students waste valuable time and money taking classes that are unnecessary duplications of previous courses, because they signed up before their military and prior college transcripts were completely evaluated.

In preparation for meeting or speaking with your academic adviser, make sure you:
• Review your degree plan and identify potential academic courses for transfer.
• Consider the level of the credit recommendation and analyze the appropriateness to the degree plan.
• Compare your credit recommendations to this institution’s courses. For example, are the learning outcomes and topics on the ACE exhibit of the course you took the same as those listed in the institution’s course catalog?
• Take ownership during the transfer process by following up with the transfer, registrar, or admissions department.
• Monitor your curriculum plan, transfer approvals, and documentation within formal university systems. This process is sometimes called a “degree audit” and it means that you and your academic adviser are making sure that you are receiving appropriate credit and taking the right classes to complete your degree.

Source: The American Council on Education, ww.acenet.edu/news-room/Documents/Transfer-Guide.pdf

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