The University of Wisconsin System places a high priority on improving baccalaureate completion rates, closing the opportunity gap for minoritized students and minimizing the financial and other barriers to degree attainment for all students regardless of where they begin their college career. In a collaborative attempt to remove transfer barriers for Wisconsin students, the UW System engaged in statewide initiatives and created strategic partnerships with the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) to improve credit transfer between or among institutions of higher education across the state. The system-to-system partnership is key to student success, reducing time and credits to degree, lessening student debt, and providing the workforce the employees needed to support the vitality of the state.
Over the last four years, the University of Wisconsin System has made historic advances in the work of transfer through:
- forging new agreements across all sectors of higher education in Wisconsin,
- building its technological infrastructure,
- optimizing student transfer opportunities in policy, and
- expanding strategic transfer partnerships across all sectors of higher education throughout the state.
Forging New Agreements: Creation of an Intersystem Statement on Transfer
Both the UW System and the WTCS boards adopted a Joint Statement on Transfer modeled after national transfer best practices. The statement highlights the need to optimize the portability of courses and credentials in transfer across systems and guides the work of the Inter-System Transfer Steering Committee.
Universal Credit Transfer Agreements: Previously, the UWS identified approximately 40 credits of equivalent courses with the WTCS. Under Interim President Thompson, the UW System expanded that credit transfer number to more than 78 credits to comply with Act 46 of Wisconsin statutes 36.31. Through analyses of course equivalencies by faculty and staff in each system, the systems were able to meet these legislative requirements two years early. This academic year, similar agreements with WAICU and tribal colleges are well underway to guide student transfer from those institutions to UW universities.
Building Technology Infrastructure
During this same period, the UW System and the WTCS implemented more robust transfer technology platform tools to improve transparency and to assist students in making educated decisions when transferring credit. Over the last two years, transfer information has transformed from outdated, inconsistent and incomplete data to become more up-to-date, consistently accurate and accessible information for students, their families and university staff across both university systems. Through the adoption of these tools, staff analyzed transfer course equivalencies and other transfer options. Further this technology will ensure that Wisconsin independent colleges and universities and tribal college students have opportunities to explore transfer options to UW universities and WTCS. Students are able now more readily able to consider reverse-transfer options when desired. Inventing in the technology infrastructure generated more seamless and easier to navigate processes and information access for students and advisors.
Optimizing Student Transfer Opportunities in Policy
The policy changes to support intersystem transfer focused on broadening the liberal arts transfer associate degree pathways already in place, and the promotion of articulation agreements and identification of STEM transfer pathways. All policy supported the portability of credits and credentials so that transfer students could more effectively complete bachelor’s-level programs after transferring from associate granting institutions. The UW System renewed procedures and guidance for transfer policies and identified an alternative means that students may be awarded credit through the prior learning assessments and external testing. Additionally, after a UW system restructuring, system leaders created a guaranteed transfer pathway and policy to ensure that students from within the UW System could transfer to any other university in the system.
Expanding Strategic Transfer Partnerships
A significant aspect of the success of intersystem transfer was the creation of strategic transfer partnerships with the University of Wisconsin System, the Wisconsin Technical College System, the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities and the tribal colleges. Representatives from these higher education entities created the Inter-System Transfer Steering Committee. System administrators proposed a joint statement to the Board about transfer principles providing a shared vision, common language, shared responses to state legislated mandates and expectations for student support in the transfer experience. Leadership from the WTCS, WAICU, tribal colleges and UW System meet regularly to support a cohesive network and to advance the work of transfer across the state. This committee guided the development and approval of liberal arts associate degrees so that students at the WTCS may transfer to a UW institution with general education courses completed, at junior-level standing, and ready to enter a bachelor’s degree program. The number of liberal arts transfer degrees increased from five to 32 transfer degrees. This allows any Wisconsin student who wants to begin a college degree at any public institution in the state to do so with the goal of transferring to a UW institution.
The work represents a new level of cooperation across university systems to optimize the portability of courses and programs for all students. Guided by the notion of supporting our students, these university systems show the benefits of collaboration, systemness and maximizing opportunities for students.