Switching schools is common for college students. One in three will transfer to another institution at some point in their education.
Still, the transfer process can be confusing, and that's certainly the case for anyone enrolled at a school in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, the fifth-largest higher education network in the nation. Even though the seven universities and 24 community and technical colleges have been part of a single system since 1995, they essentially operate independently.
So it's not surprising that a MnSCU survey found that one-fourth of students who switched schools rated their transfer experience as "poor" or "fair." Last year, nearly 20,000 students transferred from one MnSCU school to another.
When Chancellor Steven Rosenstone was hired three years ago, one of his priorities was to streamline the MnSCU's system, which serves more than 400,000 full-time and part-time students at 31 schools spanning 54 campuses in 47 communities. In November, MnSCU trustees approved the "Charting the Future" initiative that outlines a plan to encourage joint academic planning.
That plan is long overdue. Earlier this week, a media report cited the frustrating experience of a Minneapolis Community and Technical College student who had nine psychology courses rejected by Metropolitan State University, even though the classes use many of the same textbooks that Metro State does. Meanwhile, the University of Minnesota, a school outside the MnSCU system, accepted the psychology credits.
It shouldn't be that way, not with schools that should view each other as partners, not competitors. Fortunately, there's a local example of how colleges can work cooperatively.
More than 40 students gathered Tuesday in a Rochester Community Technical College classroom to hear the "Path to Purple" presentation — led by Paula Carlsen, the University Center Rochester Shared Academic Adviser, and Trent Derbach, Winona State University-Rochester Student Success and Career Adviser — that explained how RCTC students can transfer to WSU without a loss of credits.
Carlsen holds a unique position on the UCR campus. Her job is half-funded by RCTC and half-funded by WSU, an arrangement she calls "a true investment and belief in what this role can bring to both partners."
"It's a great way to help our students transfer more seamlessly, as well as an outstanding example of how we as MnSCU schools can 'play differently' as so charged recently by Chancellor Rosenstone," she said.
Carlsen, Derbach and other academic advisers assist students through an alphabet soup of acronyms, such as DARS, or Degree Audit Report System, a document that tracks progress toward completing a degree; and MnTC, or Minnesota Transfer Curriculum, a package of classes that should satisfy general education requirements at all Minnesota public colleges and universities.
Path to Purple started in 2009 as a broadening of the Two Plus Two program that RCTC and WSU have shared since the 1980s. Through Two Plus Two, students can earn an associate's degree from RCTC and a bachelor's degree from WSU in 13 majors without leaving Rochester. The Path to Purple expands that concept to include degrees students can earn on the Winona campus.
In the fall of 2013, 188 students transferred from RCTC to WSU, Dernbach noted, up dramatically from 117 in 2012. In fact, 80 percent of WSU students have taken classes through RCTC.
Other schools have taken notice of the Path to Purple model, with Carlsen and other RCTC officials meeting recently with a group from Normandale Community College of Bloomington.
"A team of individuals came down to UCR to learn how this partnership works as they were interested in potentially forging a similar picture with Minnesota State University Mankato," Carlsen said.
We find it fitting that RCTC, the state's oldest community college, and WSU, the state's oldest public university, continue to set an example for other schools on how to chart their future.