What is an Articulation Agreement and Why Should You Care?

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What is an Articulation Agreement and Why Should You Care?
Many students enter community college with the intent of transferring to a four-year college or university. Unfortunately, the path can be fraught with challenges. Articulation agreements between schools help students navigate the pitfalls to ensure an easier, more successful transition.

If you were to ask any admissions counsellor or community college administrator what an articulation agreement is, they wouldn’t hesitate to tell you. Ask any student on a community college campus, however, and you might not get the same response. Articulation agreements exist between many colleges, yet the majority of community college students have no idea what they are.

An articulation agreement is designed to create a seamless transfer experience for students moving from community college to four-year institutions. Not every community college has them, but most do, and they are an invaluable resource for transfer students. Read on to learn more about what an articulation agreement is and how it can benefit you as a community college student.

The Trouble with Transferring

According to the Community College Research Center, roughly 40% of undergraduates in the United States start their higher education at community college. Of those, 80% intend to earn at least a bachelor’s degree and about 20% end up transferring to a four-year college or university.

In the eyes of an incoming community college student, the future is bright and community college is a steppingstone on the path to four-year school. Unfortunately, that path is not as easy to navigate as one would hope. Between the challenges of completing prerequisites and paying for tuition, many students take longer than anticipated to make the transfer, if they make it at all. Even then, the average transfer student loses over 40% of their credits which can set them back even further.

Community college students transferring into broad degree programs like English or mathematics have little trouble completing prerequisites and finding a compatible school. For more competitive programs like nursing, however, it may take longer to be accepted into the program to even start the process of completing prerequisites which delays the transfer even more. Studies also show that it is more difficult in certain states for community college students to successfully transfer and complete a degree.

The path from community college to a four-year college or university can be a challenging one, but some schools do their best to help their students navigate it. Articulation agreements between colleges can help transfer students make the transition more seamlessly for an improved chance of overall success.

What is an Articulation Agreement?

An articulation agreement is a formal partnership between two or more institutions of higher education. Typically, this type of agreement is formed between a community college and a four-year institution with the goal of creating a seamless transfer process for students.

Though many community colleges say they help their students transfer to four-year colleges and universities, only those with articulation agreements are able to guarantee admission. An articulation agreement is a signed legal contract that goes into great detail about things such as:

  • Guaranteed admission
  • Acceptance of transfer credits
  • Eligibility for scholarships
  • Academic course requirements

These agreements help open the lines of communications between the community college and four-year institution to hammer out the details for what transfer students need to know. At some schools, articulation agreements are known as transfer agreements or transfer guides, but the founding principle is the same: to provide students with a step-by-step guide for completing necessary course requirements and transferring credits to another school.

What Programs Offer Articulation Agreements?

Articulation agreements are generally developed for technical programs and specialized professional programs such as Associates of Science (AS), Associate of Fine Arts (AFA), and Associate of Applied Science (AAS) as well we other diplomas and certificates. The idea is that the students who take advantage of these agreements intend to apply their community college credits to a specific four-year program or major at the college or university of transfer.

When it comes to the specific schools that develop articulation agreements, they are usually made between institutions in a specific geographic area. They can also be made between public community and four-year colleges with the same state system of higher education. Both schools use the articulation agreement to promote the ease of transferability as a way to attract students to both institutions – it’s a mutually beneficial relationship. In order to secure those mutual benefits, most articulation agreements set a specific time frame for acceptance and students must complete the program or risk losing credits.

How to Evaluate an Articulation Agreement

As a community college student, you want to gain the maximum benefit from your education while also ensuring future success. If you’re trying to save money on tuition by completing course requirements at community college before moving to a four-year school, you should do your research to make sure you start out on the right path. Many schools have articulation agreements, but they are not all created equal. You need to do your research to make sure you pick the right pair of schools.

Here are some aspects of an articulation agreement to pay particular attention to:

  • Guaranteed Admission – Many articulation agreements guarantee automatic acceptance of any student who completes an associate degree at the partner school with a certain cumulative GPA. Keep in mind that some programs will have higher admission criteria that may not be eligible for guaranteed admission and some schools specify certain types of associate degrees required to move into a four-year program.
  • Transfer Credits – An articulation agreement will lay out the details of the four-year school’s transfer credit policy and may specify a maximum number of credits that will transfer. Some agreements will also state that the four-year school’s general education requirements can be waived by completing an associate degree before transfer.
  • Program-to-Program Chart – Possibly the most valuable part of an articulation agreement, this chart shows transfer students exactly how two academic programs align. For example, it may show how an associate degree in Biology from a community college lines up with a bachelor’s degree in Biology from a four-year school. If you know what you want to major in at a four-year school, you can use the chart to determine what courses you need to complete at community college in order to transfer.
  • Transfer Scholarships – If you’re worried about higher tuition after transferring to a four-year school, check out the scholarship section of your school’s articulation agreement. It will tell you what scholarships are available in what amounts and what GPA you need to earn them.

If you want to take advantage of an articulation agreement, do your research to understand the requirements at both ends. For example, if the college you’re transferring to requires a certain GPA for guaranteed admission, start working toward that GPA from the moment you set foot on your community college campus. You should also work closely with your academic advisor to make sure you’re completing all of the necessary course requirements to be able to transfer and to obtain your desired bachelor’s degree.

Three Articulation Agreements in the U.S.

Articulation agreements are becoming increasingly more common, but you’ll need to do your research to find the best option in your area. Your first step is to reach out to an admissions counselor at the community colleges in your area to ask about existing articulation agreements. If you already know what four-year school you want to transfer to, you may want to start there and ask if they have any articulation agreements with nearby community colleges.

Remember, each state has its own requirements for transferring schools and each articulation agreement is unique. To give you an idea of what one might look like, here are the details of three articulation agreements in three different states:

1. Massachusetts Community Colleges (Commonwealth Commitment Program)

Students beginning their college journey at one of 15 Massachusetts community colleges can easily transfer to a state university or to the University of Massachusetts at a reduced cost. Admission and credit transfer are guaranteed when students complete an associate degree in under 2 ½ years while maintaining fulltime continuous enrollment and a minimum 3.0 GPA. Other program benefits include tuition credits, a freeze on tuition and fees, and a 10% tuition rebate each semester.

2. University of California (UC) System (Transfer Admission Guarantee TAG)

California community college students can transfer to six UC campuses with fall admission guaranteed for students meeting specific requirements. The program is available to all majors in the College of Letters and Science, except Performing Arts, but is not available to majors in the College of Creative Studies or College of Engineering. Some majors have specific course work requirements and other campus-specific requirements may also apply.

3. Florida College System Transfer Programs

Community college students who complete an associate degree can transfer into related bachelor’s programs at many Florida colleges. Transfer agreements also exist between many Florida College System institutions and private or independent schools. Some bachelor’s degree programs offer partnerships with different state and private universities for course work completed on campus or online.

If you’re hoping to complete your college education at a four-year college or university, you can still start at community college. The key is to do your research to find out whether any of the schools in your area have articulation agreements that might help you make the transition more seamlessly. Good luck!


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