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March 30, 2006

Legislators seek state-wide transfer for college credits

Are all college credits created equal? Some state legislators think they should be.

Legislation introduced last summer in the Pennsylvania General Assembly seeks to require public higher education institutions in the commonwealth, including Pitt, to codify articulation agreements for transferring credits.

House Bill 1706, introduced by Rep. Josh Shapiro (D-Abington), calls for “the elimination of requirements that result in unnecessary duplication of courses or credits and the removal of credit-acceptance and credit-application barriers for transfers of credits between institutions of higher education,” by June 30.

The legislation further would require higher education institutions to make all necessary changes to their core courses to ensure equivalency for those credits among all institutions.

The state Senate is considering similar legislation in Senate Bill 1147, which was introduced by Sen. James J. Rhoades (R-Mahanoy City).

That legislation now is being debated in hearings by the Senate education committee, of which Rhoades is chairman.

According to Pitt lobbyist Paul Supowitz, “What this legislation says is that they want to mandate a universal credit-equivalency system so that students are not penalized by having to take the same credits twice if they transfer. On the face of it, it seems like a good idea. So we understand the sentiment.”

But Pitt is wary of unintended consequences, including a dilution of the University’s academic program quality and its reputation, he said.

“Our position is that we have a good system in place. We have articulation agreements with Community College of Allegheny County and several other institutions in the region and we’re looking to expand those agreements. We even are sending our counselors to the CCAC campus to help students know what they need to take and what credits will transfer,” Supowitz said.

But Pitt wants to ensure that students who transfer are prepared for the standards of its academic programs, which are determined by the faculty here, he said.

Moreover, with thousands of courses offered statewide, making meaningful comparisons would be impractical, he added. “Courses that may even have the same title may have completely different content and requirements.”

In the interest of helping to save transfer students time and money, however, Pitt is willing to consider proposals for a credit-equivalency system. “The chancellor has said he’s willing to listen and to discuss the issue,” Supowitz said.

Chancellor Mark Nordenberg was questioned about this issue at Pitt’s hearing before the House appropriations committee in February. Nordenberg said, “We feel responsible that when a University of Pittsburgh diploma is hanging on someone’s wall, that requires our considered judgment [that the person has completed a program of] appropriate rigor, appropriate depth, appropriate quality. I’m not sure a ‘one size fits all’ would work. If there is a genuine gap in the educational record, something we think ought to have been covered that was not part of the curriculum, [you have a student] moving forward without important building blocks.”

Nordenberg said Pitt would be against a system that facilitated students’ ability to transfer at the expense of program quality. “We worry about things getting reduced to the lowest common denominator,” he said. “We want students to have the ability to move but also to be successful after they do. If there are gaps, it’s not only bad for Pitt’s reputation. Failure after transferring doesn’t help anyone.”

Provost James Maher, who also was questioned about articulation agreements in Harrisburg in February, added that Pitt has not had problems with maintaining its educational quality.

“The reason we haven’t is we’ve held to a high standard in terms of articulation negotiations,” he said. “We’ve also seen an eagerness of other institutions to accept those standards.”

Supowitz said that Robert Pack, vice provost for Academic Planning and Resources Management, was expected to testify on this issue in Pitt’s behalf before the state Senate education committee yesterday, as the University Times went to press.

—Peter Hart & Kimberly K. Barlow

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