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If I Had a Hammer

Why should the transfer process be so onerous?

Geoffrey H. FletcherI admit to being susceptible to the "every problem looks like a nail when you have a hammer" syndrome, and my hammer is technology. The latest nail is the transfer process for California community college students. According to a study issued by the Sacramento State Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Policy, "Crafting a Student-Centered Transfer Process in California: Lessons From Other States", a mesh of convoluted, incompatible transfer policies in California are causing students to rack up far more hours than they need by taking courses that are not necessary, wasting the time and money of an already cash-strapped student population. A Los Angeles Times article about the report noted, "If a Bay Area student enters community college and hopes to seek a bachelor's degree in psychology, the six nearest public four-year institutions… each has a different set of course requirements for transfer." That is crazy.

Many of the institution-based changes the report recommends, such as developing associate's degrees for transfer that entitle students to admission to a public university and a guaranteed transfer of all degree credits, will take a long time-- a very long time. It took me three years to get one new course in gifted education on the books at one university where I taught.

In the interim, can't my hammer-- technology-- help this nail? I am thinking about portals with interactive, graphics-based scenarios that clearly explain requirements to students. For example, the hypothetical Bay Area community college student cited above could go to the portal and click on the requirements for a degree from San Jose State University, compare that to the requirements from UC-Davis, and then view what the local community colleges offer. I see online communities where students can enter what courses they have taken thus far, click on a degree they want to achieve from a particular college or university, and have a program do a sample gap analysis. A human counselor may still need to verify or offer alternatives, but at least a student would have a place to start the discussion. (The Virginia Community College System, one of our 2009 Campus Technology Innovator award winners, certainly is on the right track with its Virginia Education Wizard.)

And why not make the solutions truly "student-centered" by having students help create them? A little bit of money can hire some very bright young people to come up with ideas that you and I would never dream of. Such a project might be the end result of a multimedia or computer science course. The possibilities are many, and with students creating these applications, they have an excellent chance of being used (better than many so-called online catalogs that often are nothing more than indecipherable PDFs of paper catalogs).

Giving students money or credit to do tech work is not a new idea; tech support at many colleges and universities would fall apart without student help. But we can go one step further and enable students to create products and applications that can benefit both the university and themselves-- that's a nail my hammer would love to go after.

-- Geoff Fletcher, Editorial Director

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About the Author

Geoffrey H. Fletcher is the deputy executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA).

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