Guest Blog: The Trouble with Transfer Articulation Policies

June 11, 2011 | Blog

Today’s blog is authored by Josipa Roksa, assistant professor at the University of Virginia

Once again, transfer articulation policies are in the news, being touted as a viable solution to the problem of low transfer rates between 2-year and 4-year colleges.

Articulation policies sound like a good idea, but there are a few pieces of empirical evidence that should give us pause. Consider the following questions:

(1) Do states with articulation policies (and particularly those with more comprehensive articulation policies) have higher transfer rates?

According to at least three recent studies, the answer is no.

For example, see:
Gregory M. Anderson, Jeffrey C. Sun, and Mariana Alfonso Anderson, “Effectiveness of Statewide Articulation Agreements on the Probability of Transfer: A Preliminary Policy Analysis” The Review of Higher Education, 29 no 3 (2006).

Betheny Gross and Dan Goldhaber, “Community College Transfer and Articulation Policies: Looking Beneath the Surface.” Working paper # 2009_1R. University of Washington Bothell: Center on Reinventing Public Education (April 2009)

Josipa Roksa, “Building Bridges for Student Success: Are Higher Education Articulation Policies Effective?,” Teachers College Record 111 (2009).

(2) Do states with articulation policies have higher bachelor’s degree completion rates, shorter time-to-degree, and/or less “wasted” credits among their transfer students?

The answer, again, is no.

Josipa Roksa, and Bruce Keith,“Credits, Time, and Attainment: Articulation Policies and Success after Transfer,” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 30 (2008).

(3) How many credits do four-year entrants earn on their path toward a bachelor’s degree?

Community college transfers are not the only ones earning 140 credits. A recent report noted that students who transferred from community colleges to the California State University (CSU) system graduated with an average of 141 credits. And how many credits did students who began in the CSU system graduate with? 142!! The situation is only slightly better in Florida: Associate of Arts (AA) transfers completed 137 credits before graduation while native four-year students averaged approximately 133 credits. Similar patterns are observed in national data: students starting in four-year institutions (and even those who attend only one four-year institution) earn more (and often many more) than 120 credits.

In conclusion: yes, low transfer rates are a problem, but there is no empirical evidence to suggest that articulation policies are the solution. This does not mean that we should not work on streamlining credit accumulation, or that the transfer process should not be more transparent and consistent. But it does mean that relying on articulation policies to increase bachelor’s degree attainment or improve efficiency in higher education is more hopeful than realistic.


  1. Reply


    June 13, 2011

    By the end of this post, I did not know any more about the trouble with transfer articulation policies than when I started. I don't necessarily disagree with the thesis. But I would appreciate a forthright argument to support it. Alas, I do not have access to Dr. Roksa's academic studies in gated journals, so I am left in the dark as to his evidence that articulation policies fail to increase bachelors degree completion rates or shorten time to degree. But I find it ominous that he seems to be comparing states based on their articulation policies, when many other factors could affect outcomes.

    Dr. Roksa does address the wasted credits issue, but I am left unsatisfied. The comparison with native four-year students begs the question of whether transfer articulation policies actually led to transfer students transferring with more credits or not.

  2. Reply

    Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab

    June 16, 2011

    Professor Josipa Roksa is happy to provide the papers underlying this work if you email HER at

  3. Reply


    June 21, 2011

    Alas, I absentmindedly translated "Josipa" as "Joseph." Thanks for correcting me.

    It would be helpful for references that back up an argument to a blog post to be available to all readers, not just to those who e-mail the author. Fortunately, one such paper is available. Dr. Roksa presented a summary of her research at AEI's Degrees of Difficulty conference earlier this year. The paper can be downloaded here:

    It's a thought-provoking analysis, suggesting that transfer and native students face common challenges of weak preparation and lack of direction, and that those common challenges are much more powerful than any obstacles created by inadequate transfer systems. Dr. Roksa's research does seem to place the onus on supporters of articulation policies to "articulate" their expected outcomes, and to document them.

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