The double standard in person | Confessions of a Community College Dean

One of our largest transfer destination universities – you’ve heard of them – is teaching remotely right now. And he tells us he won’t take transfer math lessons unless the exams are taken in person.

He does not give his own exams in person.

Double standards in transfer are nothing new. The most obvious example, which I admit is even true in my own college, is the “D” grade. Most colleges, including my own, do not accept “D” grades in transfer. But if a “native” student has a high enough overall GPA, they can graduate with a few “D” grades in the mix. The ethics of this are tricky, but at least the rule is reciprocal across the industry. The rule regarding in-person testing, especially during a pandemic, is more idiosyncratic.

This is not the only idiosyncratic rule. I’ve also come across colleges (or individual departments) that don’t give credit for a class taught in a high school building, even if the work was the same. Yet those same places will give credit for AP or IB.

Before COVID, some places did not accept transfer classes if the classes were online. It really is no longer tenable, insofar as it ever was. But some are finding ways to achieve the same result through the backdoor, such as in-person testing requirements for classes where students may have chosen this modality due to distance.

Transfer does not receive as much attention in policy discussions as programs that lead directly to employment. It should. The transfer provides access to higher level education and diplomas which unlock access to even better jobs (in many cases). It also gives students who may not have started with all the advantages a chance to prove themselves. I take pride in the fact that we regularly send students to places like Columbia, Cornell, NYU, Rutgers and NJIT. (Princeton hasn’t joined the team yet, but we’re trying.) For people worried about tuition and student debt – that’s not the same thing, but that’s another post – the ability to start in a cheaper setting while living at home can be an effective way to cut costs.

Stupid transfer rules like these are part of what makes competency-based education so appealing. If a student can demonstrate their abilities, who cares what building they were in when they picked it up? Why engage in bad faith forensic interrogation of inputs when results are what matter? My pro tip for folks at host institutions: the harder you make it to play by the rules, the more momentum you give to people playing by an entirely different set of rules. “Persnickety” is not a good look, and it may not be sustainable.

The most frustrating part is that our graduates obviously do better than “native” students when they arrive at their destination schools. They perform. But even with backgrounds stretching back decades, our students are held to arbitrary criteria that students who could afford to start at the four-year level are not.

I am unable to explain why regional accreditors allow shenanigans like this. You would think they would frown on such abuses of power, especially in the absence of anything resembling data showing that the abuses are somehow justified. Somehow they manage not to notice. Maybe they’re asking the wrong questions.

Fair is fair. If university students can test online, ours should be able to too.

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