Reducing  transfer tension Illinois initiative helps students get the credits they deserve

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Serious students sitting for an examination in a classroom.

prospective transfer students can
research credit information here:

iTransfer is a source for all types of transfer assistance in Illinois. Within that portal, students may ask a question and receive an emailed answer.

Students may also use the companion website,, which allows students to look for course-to-course transfer information, see graduation requirements and create personalized planning guides.

Some parents of today’s college students tell horror stories of time and money that “went missing” when they transferred from one college to another. Just 15 years ago, predicting what completed course credits a second school in Illinois would accept was difficult.

However, today’s collegians interested in transferring from a community college to a four-year school or between two universities have a more secure path. Thanks in large part to a group of forward-thinking leaders in college counseling, Illinois has a roadmap for which courses will automatically be accepted by any public institution and by many private schools in the state, said Krista Jackson, coordinator of the Illinois Articulation Initiative (IAI).

Despite the mouthful of a name, the concept is simple. Under Illinois law passed in 1998, public schools must accept a long list of general education credits and another list of courses from popular eventual majors, including business, regardless of where they were earned.

“It isn’t to anybody’s advantage for students to take courses that won’t eventually transfer if the student is even considering continuing on to a four-year college,” said Earl Dowling, vice president of enrollment and student affairs at College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn.

“Twenty or 30 years ago, when the cost of a college education was not what it is today, I think more students elected to do their own thing,” Dowling said. “But times have changed and nobody can afford to retake a course.”

He said the student taking 37 credit hours of general education requirements at any community college would be able to transfer that package to any school in the AIA agreement. The same applies to a student who starts at a four-year institution and wants to make a change.

“This system provides a guarantee,” the IAI’s Jackson said. “If a student meets the IAI-approved requirements for core courses, those courses transfer as a package. As far as general education courses go, that student is done.”

This is especially helpful to students who plan to eventually transfer, but haven’t selected a major or another school.

She explained that, in the early ’90s, the transfer coordinators across the state saw the need for a more unified system.

“Students were asking admissions counselors why they couldn’t get transfer credit for specific courses,” she said. “Transfers worked, but not always very well.”

However, the transfer coordinators could not make the change on their own. They had to appeal to the policy-making boards of the Illinois Community College Board and the Illinois Board of Higher Education. Advocates had to build some “collegiate trust” across all of the schools, she said. However, schools at all levels have broadly welcomed the result, she said.

Schools had prided themselves on their “curriculum credentials,” agreed Cliff Casey, manager of advising services at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines. So to make the transfer process smoother, an external review board of academics weighed the concepts and the syllabi in the courses that were to become IAI certified.

“They have set up some parameters so that all 100-level American history courses have to cover common concepts,” he said. “Now we look at this (IAI) and say, ‘Why weren’t we doing this…forever.”

Despite the simplification of the process, all of the college officials continue to urge students to meet regularly with their academic advisers to ensure everything is on track.

“Students still are at risk of taking courses outside the 37 credit general education requirements that may not transfer,” Casey said.

Most associate degrees require at least 60 credit hours, so students still have 23 credit hours to explore areas they may to choose as a major. Students are wise to ensure that another school will accept those credits as well.

“We really don’t expect an 18-year-old to understand the nuances of academic planning,” Dowling said. “But we sure don’t want them to load up on classes that won’t bring them closer to a bachelor’s degree if that is what they’d like to achieve.”

He observed that the culture of college, which includes the influx of older students, has presented new challenges. Moreover, the transfer initiative has helped serve those students who may have had their educations disrupted.

“But we are finding the initiative really works,” he said.

The initiative continually seeks out new partnerships. Just this year, Columbia College of Chicago signed on to the agreement.

Illinois’ articulation program has been so successful that Jackson said the plan has become a model for other states. “It is wonderful to be able to do the right thing by students, and we are happy to see other states look to us for help,” she said.