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What is an Ar­tic­u­la­tion Agreement?

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Transferring between colleges is a common occurrence for students of all ages. However, it can be a bit difficult and sometimes unnecessarily expensive for those who do not take the time to understand the transfer process’s details (and associated risks).

Each year, hundreds of thousands of students transfer from one postsecondary institution to another. To provide perspective, the number of transfer students in the 2020 school year for 3,443 schools exceeded 1.2 million.

Understanding how the college transfer process works is essential to ensure the application of transfer credits goes smoothly and that you do not stray from your projected graduation path of four years. Students must understand the underlying guidelines for college credit transfers – for their specific school and how to access the details. Then, simply follow the written roadmap it provides to earn the degree.

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These established rules are set forth in Articulation Agreements issued between schools.

Because lost credits can cost time and money, the importance of understanding the definition of articulation agreement is essential.  

What Is an Articulation Agreement?

An articulation agreement definition would include the following – it is an official, written partnership between institutions that recognizes those credits from one school that may be applied to specific degree programs in another school.

The definition of articulation agreement, from a practical perspective, is that it offers an outline by mapping the coursework (including participating schools) that must be completed to comply with the requirements of a specific degree program.  But note, while an articulation agreement definition (and intent) is generally the same – across the board, some articulation agreements vary by school and state.

California and Florida have created strong articulation agreement arrangements between the states’ community colleges and those offering baccalaureate degrees. At the same time, other states have agreements that are looser and less formal.

Why Do Articulation Agreements Matter?

If you consider an articulation agreement as an education road map, those students who wander off the path and miss a requirement (or many) will find they are lost in the credit transfer abyss.  

Because community colleges are typically less costly than those four-year institutions of higher education, those students who have yet to figure out an explicit career path can start their education with general coursework while deciding in which direction their career is headed. In other words, enrolling in an associate’s degree program is an excellent and affordable option that allows students to finish up their upper-level baccalaureate degree courses in a partner school.

But, because most community colleges only offer diploma and associate level (2-year) programs, enrolled students should try to find a way to apply for the earned credits at the associate’s level to a bachelor’s program when transferring to the next school. And note that associate-level academic programs do not necessarily make a student declare a major, which a bachelor’s program would require.

The credits that are transferrable (and to which schools they can be transferred) will be detailed in the articulation agreement.

How to Make the Most of Articulation Agreements?

It is noted that each school has the option as to how to manage credit transfers, so it is imperative that aspiring students research the connections between those schools they are thinking about applying.

The best starting point to find relevant articulation agreement information would be in the schools’ course catalogs – which are online and accessible at any time. However, schools have many resources for those students with an interest in their programs, so reach out to admissions staff through websites, academic advisers, school enrollment centers, or student-transfer offices, among others.

If you remain uncertain about a class’s transferability status, it is a smart idea to consult with an academic adviser to help you navigate what can be complex requirements. These academic representatives can answer a host of questions that may include –

  • What is the intent and definition of articulation agreement for their particular school?
  • How does the school handle traditional semester-earned credits to schools operating on a quarterly calendar?
  • How will earned-credits from a community college transfer to the bachelor’s degree requirements? Will they be considered electives?
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Not All Credits Are Created Equal

Students should remain cautious about associate-level classes that are known as or considered workforce credits because some, but not all, four-year schools accept those types of credits upon transfer towards an academic degree program.

Workforce credits refer to non-academic credits given for certain technical/vocational programs (or actual work experience) at the associate’s level. The classes and earned credits for workforce programs are designed to help prepare students for immediate employment, or, perhaps, a job upgrade.

And note that while some majors are less restrictive with their credit transfer requirements, others are not. For example, if you are taking a course in nutrition to meet a general education requirement and then try to transfer to a four-year school as a computer science major, it is likely this class would not meet the requirements for the four-year degree program.  

It is a good idea to know what career or program you intend to pursue before transferring, so you have some control of the process moving forward.

According to government statistics, students transferring from one public higher learning institution to another public school tend to lose the least number of credits upon transfer. And, as one would expect, transferring between public schools in the same state tends to be an easier process to negotiate than a transfer between a private and public school.

The Take-Away

An associate’s degree program is a good way to complete college credits while figuring out the direction of your career. Through articulation agreements, students can complete general education classes that are less costly but still required to complete a four-year degree.

Many students are in a rush and want to move on from their associate’s degree program, although some education experts caution that it often pays to finish the degree before moving to a bachelor’s degree program. First, it demonstrates a student’s commitment to finishing the program. And some schools require students to complete a defined number of hours before transferring, although there are exceptions to this standard.

The secret to an easy, planned transfer is to seek degree programs and opportunities while you are still completing the two-year program. This way, you can find the most advantageous path through the higher education system.


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Ready to start your journey?

Ready to start your journey?