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III. Massachusetts and National Transfer Policies and Agreements

Massachusetts Transfer Policies and Agreements

Over the past three decades, various transfer policies and agreements have emerged in Massachusetts to help improve student transfer from the community college to a state college or University of Massachusetts campus.

The Commonwealth Transfer Compact (CTC) was established by the Commonwealth in 1974 and last revised in 1990. The CTC is for students who complete an associate degree at a community college with a 2.0 grade point average and who complete a minimum 35-credit general education core. The CTC guarantees the transfer of community college credits and gives eligible students full junior standing at the receiving institution.

Originating in the early 1990s between the community colleges and the University of Massachusetts, and later extending to the state colleges, Joint Admissions agreements are individual program-to-program agreements for students who complete an associate degree at a community college. Students who are enrolled in an approved joint admissions program and have earned at least a 2.5 grade point average will automatically be admitted into the state college or University campus with which there is an agreement. There are more than 2,300 joint admissions agreements between the community colleges and the University of Massachusetts campuses and the state colleges.

Through the Tuition Advantage Program, established in 1997 and last revised in 2002, Joint Admissions students who earn a 3.0 grade point average are entitled to a tuition waiver equal to 33% of the resident tuition rate at the University campus or state college for two years.

The Early Childhood Education Transfer Compact and the Elementary Education Transfer Compact took effect in 2004 and are the Commonwealth’s first efforts at establishing statewide transfer agreements for specific majors. Students who complete the associate degree with the required coursework, earn a 2.75 grade point average, and achieve a passing score on the Communication and Literacy Skills Test of the Massachusetts Test for Education Licensure are guaranteed admission with all credits applied to the baccalaureate degree.

Articulation Agreements are program-to-program agreements between a community college and a state college or University of Massachusetts campus that specify the courses needed to be completed at the community college and a required grade point average. Students who successfully complete the requirements are typically guaranteed admission with full transfer of credit. For example, certain majors such as nursing, education, and engineering have been forced to create separate agreements outside of the CTC and Joint Admissions due to professional association curriculum requirements.

All of the transfer policies and agreements outlined above contain stipulations. In some cases, because of space or fiscal limitations, baccalaureate institutions may not admit all qualified applicants to a given major or program. Generally, the institution uses the same criteria for applicants who are transfer students as it does for its “native students,” i.e., those who began their baccalaureate programs at the four-year institution. In some cases, individual institutions may have grade point average requirements higher than the 2.0 required by the CTC or the 2.5 required by Joint Admissions.

Although there is no statewide common general education core, four state colleges and University of Massachusetts campuses waive their general education requirements for students who have completed the CTC.

Comparisons to Other States

Each state in the U.S. maintains its own distinct approach to addressing transfer issues using a combination of strategies. In 1971, Florida became the first state to mandate legislatively a statewide articulation policy, and since that time, many states have adopted statewide transfer policies with or without legislation. The Education Commission of the States published a study in 2001 comparing state transfer and articulation policies across the country and is summarized in the table below. The study notes that successful transfer from a community college to a four-year institution is often the only opportunity these individuals have to achieve a bachelor’s degree, particularly in the case of low-income students.

Comparison of All States’ Transfer and Articulation Policies: 2001

Type of Policy National Massachusetts
Legislation 30 states Yes (Chapter 15A, Section 9 (v))
Cooperative agreements between institutions 40 states Yes (Commonwealth Transfer Compact, Joint Admissions, Education Compacts, Articulation Agreements)
Transfer data reporting 33 states Yes (The Annual Performance Measurement Report for the State and Community Colleges includes the number of community college students who transfer into the state colleges and the number of these students who transfer through joint admissions.)
Incentives and rewards 18 states Yes (33% tuition waiver)
Statewide articulation guides 26 states No
Common (general education) core 23 states No
Common course numbering 8 states No
Source: Education Commission of the States (February 2001). Transfer and articulation policies. Denver: CO.

Since this study, other states have changed and updated their approaches to transfer. For example, the Pennsylvania Department of Education began implementation in July 2006 of legislation to create a seamless statewide transfer and articulation system. This system required Pennsylvania's 14 community colleges and the 14 universities to adopt mandatory equivalency standards for the purpose of creating at least 30 hours of foundation courses that can be easily transferred and to establish an electronic portal for providing public access to transfer information. In New Jersey, the governor signed a law in September 2007 requiring that, upon acceptance, an associate degree awarded by a community college must be fully transferable and count as the first two years toward a baccalaureate degree at any of the state’s public institutions. Also beginning in 2007, students from Connecticut’s 12 community colleges who earn at least a B average and an associate degree were guaranteed admission to the University of Connecticut’s six campuses. In early 2008, New Hampshire agreed to allow students who were not originally accepted to the University of New Hampshire to be accepted automatically to the University without having to reapply or pay a fee if they take at least 12 credits for two consecutive semesters at a community college and earn at least a 'C' in every course.

The national research evaluating the effectiveness of approaches to transfer is new and limited but does indicate the potential impact states can have on improving transfer. A 2002 study analyzed the role of state policy in influencing the effectiveness of students transferring from community colleges to baccalaureate institutions.[6] Three high-performing transfer states were compared to three low-performing transfer states. The study found that the high-performing transfer states had stronger statewide governance capacities whereas the low-performing transfer states had institutional governing structures. The study also found that the three high-performing states used data as a tool to improve transfer performance. A 2004 national study on transfer examined the barriers associated with transfer and noted that in the area of policy decisions, “problems such as weak or nonexistent coordination between public and postsecondary institutions, too few incentives to encourage cooperation between sectors, a lack of communication and alignment between high school standards and college entrance requirements, and cumbersome and deleterious financial aid policies significantly limit both access and success for students.”[7]


6 Wellman, J.V. (2002). State policy and community college-baccalaureate transfer. National Center Report #02-6. San Jose, CA: The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education and the Institute for Higher Education Policy.

7 Improving access to the baccalaureate. (2004). American Association of Community Colleges and American Association of State Colleges and Universities. Washington, DC: Community College Press.

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