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Building Bridges for Student Success: Are Higher Education Articulation Policies Effective?

by Josipa Roksa - 2009

Background/Context: Although the importance of facilitating transfer from community colleges to 4-year institutions is almost universally accepted, there is little consensus on how to measure transfer success or evaluate policies aimed at assisting students in making this educational transition. Despite the increasing attention on transfer in recent decades, the most fundamental types of questions, such as whether community colleges are successful at facilitating transfer and bachelor’s degree attainment and whether articulation policies are effective, lack satisfactory answers.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: I describe challenges associated with current endeavors to facilitate and measure transfer success, attempt to resolve some of the inconsistencies in previous research on articulation policies, and illuminate promising paths for the future.

Research Design: The manuscript begins with a synthesis of previous research, including different definitions of transfer success and articulation policies. I then analyze state-level and individual-level data to examine the effectiveness of articulation policies using these distinct definitions. Finally, I draw on descriptive information from various higher education systems to illustrate the variety of strategies adopted to facilitate transfer, and I suggest potential explanations for why statewide articulation policies may not appear effective.

Conclusions/Recommendations: The current state of knowledge and data collection efforts make it impossible to provide definitive answers regarding the effectiveness of articulation policies in higher education. I conclude with recommendations for improving future research and policy regarding this crucial transition in higher education, including collecting and sharing data (with collaboration between higher education institutions and state and federal governments), clearly defining goals of articulation policies and evaluating them accordingly, and developing a consistent set of definitions and measurements of transfer success. I suggest that these recommendations can be implemented by building on existing systems of collaboration and coordination in higher education.

The 2/4 community college-baccalaureate transfer function is one of the most important state policy issues in higher education because its success (or failure) is central to many dimensions of state higher education performance, including access, equity, affordability, cost effectiveness, degree productivity, and quality.

Wellman, 2002, p. 3

The importance of facilitating transfer from community colleges to 4-year institutions is almost universally accepted, but there is little consensus on how to measure transfer success or evaluate policies aimed at assisting students in making this educational transition. Recent decades have produced a plethora of activity surrounding transfer: State governments are becoming more involved in the transfer process, foundations are funding transfer projects, and individual institutions are developing voluntary agreements to facilitate the movement of students through higher education. Reflecting the heightened awareness of transfer as a crucial issue in higher education, the American Association of Community Colleges declared 1991 as the year of transfer. However, despite all this activity, fundamental questions continue to lack satisfactory answers: What is transfer success? and Are articulation policies effective?

Instead of providing a definitive answer to these questions, which I deem impossible with the current state of knowledge and data collection, I focus on describing challenges associated with the current endeavors and illuminating promising paths for the future. To understand the complexity and nuances of these questions and to give adequate consideration to potential solutions, I begin by examining, in turn, what constitutes transfer and what an articulation policy is. Consideration of these concepts provides the contours for the discussion of the relationship between transfer and articulation policies and foreshadows the discussion of the future endeavors needed to adequately link the two.

It is not surprising that the issue of transfer has garnered increasing state and national attention. Approximately 50% of students in public higher education attend community colleges (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2006a), and the majority of them express a desire to transfer to 4-year institutions. Moreover, community colleges serve as the main gateway into higher education for minority and working-class students (Dougherty, 1991, p. 312). Understanding whether community colleges provide a viable route to 4-year institutions and whether state policies can enhance their effectiveness is thus crucial to fostering educational success among a growing proportion of American youth who attend these institutions.


Transfer refers to the flow of students between institutions and programs. In the context of this manuscript, transfer refers in particular to the flow of students from community colleges to 4-year institutions.1 Although it sounds simple enough, how transfer should be assessed is far from obvious. Concerns regarding a lack of a clear definition of transfer, and thus an inability to compare transfer rates across studies, institutions, or states, permeate the transfer literature (Barkley, 1993; Brawer, 1991; Clagett & Huntington, 1992; Cohen, 1994, 1996; Laanan & Sanchez, 1996; Palmer & Eaton 1991; Spicer & Armstrong, 1996).

At the core of the definition of transfer is the question of who should be included in the calculation of transfer rate2: all community college students, students who enroll in transfer programs, students who express a desire for transfer, students who complete a specified number of credits, students who complete an associate degree, or some other group of students? Students enter community colleges for different reasons, many of which do not include transfer (NCES, 2003, 2006b). It thus seems reasonable to restrict the potential pool of transfer students in some way. However, identifying that pool is not simple: students intentions are not perfectly aligned with actual behavior, two thirds of students transfer without earning an associate degree (NCES, 1997, 2003), and students from vocational programs are increasingly likely to transfer (see Townsend, 2001, for a review). Restricting the analysis by degree expectations, associate degree attainment, or program type poses unique challenges.

The debate about an appropriate definition of transfer is not only academic but also political. As a growing number of states require community colleges to report transfer rates, the debate is becoming more fierce. Calculating transfer rates is no longer only a mathematical matter, but an accountability concern. Can community colleges be accountable for students who take only a few courses or who do not follow a transfer curriculum? Transfer rates can range from 25% for all first-time community college students to 52% for students who have an academic major and who are taking courses toward a bachelors degree (NCES, 2001). Even more variation was reported by Spicer and Armstrong (1996): In one of the districts that they examined, the transfer rate ranged from 5.3% for all new community college students to 61.3% for first-time college students who had a transfer goal, were transfer ready, and had completed at least 56 credits.

One answer to the dilemma of calculating transfer rates has been provided by the Transfer Assembly Project. Transfer Assembly aimed to develop a definition that is valid, readily understandable, and based on data that are feasibly obtainable (Cohen, 1996, p. 28). The project defined the transfer rate as the percentage of first-time freshmen with 12 or more credits who transfer to a public in-state 4-year institution within 4 years (Cohen, 1994, 1996). In addition to academics increasing adoption of this definition, some states are using this description, or its variations, to measure their transfer rates (e.g., Bahr, Hom, & Perry 2005; McHewitt & Taylor, 2004).

The transparency of the Transfer Assembly measure has made it appealing, although not without criticism (e.g., see concerns expressed by data compilers reported in Brawer, 1991). In particular, the focus on public in-state institutions leaves out students who transfer to private and out-of-state colleges and universities, and limiting the time period to 4 years depresses the transfer rate because students who take longer to make this transition are not counted (see Palmer & Eaton, 1991). Data availability, collection mechanisms, and expenditures have traditionally made it difficult to avoid those omissions, however, particularly within state higher education agencies. Moreover, approximately 85% of students who transfer move on to public institutions (NCES, 1998),3 and students who transfer to 4-year institutions generally do so in fewer than 4 years.4 The Transfer Assembly definition thus provides an important starting point for analyzing transfer rates. In the concluding section, I will return to concerns surrounding transfer rates and provide some suggestions for streamlining research and policy endeavors toward a more coherent and productive discussion of transfer success.


Articulation refers to the entire range of processes and relationships involved in systematic movement of students interinstitutionally and intersegmentally throughout postsecondary education (Kintzer & Wattenbarger, 1985, p. iii). Or, stated differently, articulation encompasses all institutional and state policies and practices aimed at facilitating the flow of students between postsecondary institutions. In the context of this manuscript, the specific focus is on articulation between community colleges and 4-year institutions.

Articulation of programs between community colleges and 4-year institutions has historically been a voluntary endeavor, negotiated independently among institutions of higher education, but the landscape of articulation has changed substantially since the 1980s. Although many institutions still independently negotiate articulation agreements, the major change in the latter half of the 20th century has been an increasing state involvement in the articulation process (Bender, 1990; Knoell, 1990). States have become involved in a range of ways, from mandating statewide articulation policies to instituting state-level transfer/articulation bodies, providing student transfer services, and requiring collection of data on transfer (Bender, 1990). State activities have become so pervasive that Prager (1994) wrote, state intervention in promoting articulation has been a major, perhaps the major, catalyst of change through the 1980s (p. 496). Similarly, Robertson and Frier (1996) noted that the question is not whether states will be more aggressive in promoting transfer and articulation in higher education, but how soon, how much, in what forms, and for whom (p. 15).5

The fervor of state activity surrounding transfer has been accompanied by a proliferation of research on transfer policies and practices (see Kintzer, 1996, for a review). Numerous studies have provided detailed analyses of specific transfer-related endeavors in a select group of states (e.g., Bender, 1990; Dougherty, Reid, & Nienhusser, 2006; Hungar & Lieberman, 2001; Knoell, 1990; Wellman, 2002). Other studies have focused on surveying all states with the aim of isolating those that have statewide articulation policies. A summary of four of those recent studies is presented in Table 1.

Table 1.  Summary of Statewide Articulation Policies as Defined in Four National Studies

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Table 1 demonstrates how the seemingly simple question of whether states have statewide articulation policies begets a complicated answer. (See the appendix for detailed information on specific coding procedures of articulation policies across studies.) In summary, the Education Commission of the States (ECS, 2001) and Keith and Roksa (2008) rely on state legislation regarding articulation. Ignash and Townsends (2000, 2001) study is based on a survey of executive directors of state higher education and community college agencies. Finally, Anderson, Sun, and Alfonsos (2006) study includes only transfer policies in effect by 1991 and is based on the most restrictive definition of articulation. Although there is much variation in the approaches and resulting designations, there is also a reasonable amount of agreement: 21 states are coded as having statewide articulation policies by at least three of the four studies (see the final column in Table 1).

The challenge posed here is similar to that of measuring transfer rates: There is no standard or common understanding regarding the measurement of statewide articulation policies. Using relatively wide definitions leads to coding many states as having articulation policies, whereas restricted definitions suggest a limited amount of articulation activity. In addition, state agencies report more activity than is reflected in state statutes. These variations highlight the need for reaching some consensus on defining and coding these activities, that is, finding common ground on what constitutes a statewide articulation policy. Kintzer and Wattenbarger (1985) have provided a unifying framework embedded in a four-point schema that includes formal and legally based guidelines and policies, state system polices, voluntary agreements among institutions, and special agreements regarding transfer of vocational/technical courses. Although that schema helped to provide some semblance of coherence in the chaotic world of articulation activities, it begs for an update that would reflect heightened and varied involvement by state governments in recent decades.

Despite the complexity of classifying state articulation policies, the extensive effort invested in that endeavor reflects the overall perception that state involvement is a positive development. State involvement helps decrease at least some of the imbalance of power between community colleges and 4-year institutions (Roksa, 2006b), it affects large numbers of students, and it arguably places the interest of the students ahead of those of the institutions (Bender, 1990). Institution-level agreements require significant time and money to monitor and keep track of each specific policy (ECS, 1998). These investments are decreased by state regulation. Focusing on state regulation is also partly an analytical necessity; it is challenging to report and classify state policies accurately, and it is virtually impossible to examine the specific articulation agreements of every community college in the nation. Finally, state regulation provides the potential for creating expectations about desirable levels of transfer and the possibility for monitoring and evaluating progress toward those goals. Although state involvement creates these possibilities, they remain largely unrealized. There are few efforts to understand whether state efforts are effective at facilitating student transfer, leaving open the question of whether all the activity surrounding transfer is enhancing students progress through higher education.


There has been a dearth of research examining the effects of articulation policies on transfer rates, which is not surprising considering the challenges of defining and measuring the two sides of the equation. As the preceding reviews of articulation policies and transfer rates indicate, most studies consider only one side of the issueeither describing articulation policies or estimating transfer rates. Indeed, as Eaton (1991) noted, researchers studying articulation policies assume that if we have effective agreements about elements of transfer (such as course-equivalency guides, registration, and honoring of the associate degree), we can consider our institutional efforts successful without having to count transfer students (p. 81). However, there is little consistent evidence that this is indeed the case (e.g., see Eaton, 1994).

The most persuasive assessment of the effectiveness of articulation policies would result from utilizing longitudinal state data on transfer before and after policy implementation. However, data collection generally developed as a response to state mandates regarding articulation; thus, even states that collect data on transfer often lack comparable information from before they implemented articulation policies. Lacking longitudinal state data, researchers have relied on exploring variations in articulation policies across states. Although this approach cannot establish a causal relationship between articulation policies and transfer, it can begin to identify the patterns of articulation and transfer and describe how they vary across specific state settings. Fortunately, an increasing number of states are beginning to collect information on transfer. Future research may thus be able to provide a more rigorous assessment of the effects of articulation policies on transfer by studying states that have yet to implement articulation policies and those that alter their policies over time.

Within the current data constraints, researchers have adopted two different approaches to assessing the influence of state policies on transfer. The first group of studies relies on nationally representative samples and employs individual-level models to predict students likelihood of transfer. Anderson et al. (2006) relied on the Beginning Postsecondary Students (BPS 1989-1994) Longitudinal Study to estimate the likelihood that a community college student will transfer to a 4-year institution, controlling for a range of individual-level characteristics. The researchers ran models for all community college students and for only those aspiring to earn a bachelors degree. The results indicate that students attending community colleges in states with statewide articulation policies are not more likely to make this educational transition. In a similar type of an analysis, using NELS 19882000, Roksa (2006a, 2006b) found no relationship between state articulation policies and the probability of transfer. This was the case even when only states considered to have strong articulation policies were examined.

Several studies using institution-level data from the Transfer Assembly Project have reported a different set of findings. Banks (1994) analyzed a sample of 78 colleges in 15 states and found that institutions in states with formalized articulation/transfer mandates have significantly higher transfer rates. However, in a comparison of California, which was coded as not having formalized articulation policies, and Texas, which had such a policy, Banks (1994) found no differences. This contradictory finding is notable because those two states contained 42% of the sample. Focusing on a sample of rural community colleges, Higgins and Katsinas (1999) corroborated Bankss overall conclusion that institutional transfer rates are higher in states with formalized articulation policies.

It is difficult to compare the results of these individual and institutional studies because samples, definitions, and analytical methods vary extensively. It is possible that institutional-level studies report effects because they do not adequately address individual differences in transfer and focus on a relatively small and nonrepresentative sample of schools and states. Indeed, one can think of a number of exceptions to these findings. Using a definition akin to that of Transfer Assembly, Florida, one of the states that has a strong articulation policy and is often used as an exemplar of articulation policies, has only average transfer rates.6 At the same time, it is possible that individual-level studies of nationally representative data sets, which often have small and widely varying numbers of students per state, are not able to adequately capture effects of state policies.

Although the results of these studies cannot be compared directly, Table 2 presents analyses that attempt to reconcile some of the definitional differences. The analyses are based on the NELS 19882000 and use logistic regression models to estimate students likelihood of transfer. All models control for an extensive list of individual-level characteristics likely to influence transfer. According to Model 1, there is no significant relationship between statewide articulation policies and individuals likelihood of transfer. Converting the reported coefficient for articulation policy to odds ratios produces an odds ratio close to 1 (specifically, 1.094). Thus, students in states with and without articulation policies have approximately the same likelihood of transfer from community colleges to 4-year institutions.7

Table 2. Logistic Regression Models Examining the Relationship Between Articulation Policy and Transfer

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Because state policies have jurisdiction only within the state boundaries, evaluation of them should be restricted to in-state transfer. This restriction is implemented in Model 2, but the coefficient for articulation policy is still not statistically significant. Furthermore, although private institutions are often encouraged to participate in articulation endeavors, the state government generally mandates articulation only between public institutions. Model 3, consequently, examines the likelihood of transfer from a community college to an in-state public 4-year institution without finding a significant influence of articulation policies. Finally, previous studies that reported effects of articulation policies relied on the Transfer Assembly definition of transfer. Therefore, the final model in Table 2 restricts the community college sample to those students who match the Transfer Assembly definition and yet finds no significant relationship between articulation policy and students likelihood of transfer. It is also important to note that the coefficients for articulation policy reported in Table 2 are not only statistically nonsignificant, but also of very small magnitudes: All odds ratios are essentially 1, indicating no differences in the likelihood of transfer between states with and without articulation policies.

The same set of null findings is reported even if analyses are focused only on states with strong articulation policies, and if Anderson et al.s (2006) designation is used (Anderson et al.s definition most closely reflects the one employed in the two studies reporting positive effects of articulation policies: Banks, 1994, and Higgins & Katsinas, 1999). These findings caution against assuming that articulation policies influence the ability of community college students to successfully navigate the higher education system and transfer to 4-year institutions. Although transfer rates vary from 11% to 40% across states (Cohen, 1994), it is not apparent that statewide articulation policies are the key factor explaining that variation.


In addition to the measurement issues discussed in the preceding sections, there are numerous reasons that articulation policies may not appear effective at facilitating transfer. To maintain some semblance of coherence, I have organized the potential explanations into four categories. They are not intended to be exhaustive but simply illustrate the types of factors that may lead to difficulties in evaluating the effects of state policies on students transition from community colleges to 4-year institutions.


Articulation policy is only one aspect of a state higher education system, and thus only one component of a more complex puzzle in which states provide postsecondary opportunities to their residents. The decentralized system of U.S. higher education has afforded states the ability to shape their educational systems, creating vast diversity across states. Each state, following its historical trajectory and responding to needs and constraints within its borders, has constructed a unique system of higher education. At least two aspects of the structure of higher education may be related to implementation and effectiveness of statewide articulation policies: (a) governance and coordination, and (b) distribution of enrollments across sectors.

Governance and coordination

States have developed diverse governance structures for their higher education systems. In the spirit of the decentralized character of U.S. higher education, many states give considerable leverage to individual institutions. However, some have implemented a relatively tight governance structure in which one governing board is responsible for all public higher education institutions, what Richardson and de los Santos (2001) have termed a unified system (see also ECS, 2003). See Figure 1 for the distribution of articulation agreements and unified governance structures across states.8

Figure 1.  Relationship between statewide articulation policy and unified governance structure

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Note. States with articulation policies are shaded; those with unified governance structures are denoted by stripes. Articulation policy is coded based on the final column in Table 1, and unified system classification is based on Richardson and de los Santos (2001). States with unified systems are Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Utah.

A remarkable finding in Figure 1 is that there is almost no overlap between states with unified governance structures and those with articulation policies, the only exception being South Dakota. Articulation policies thus appear to be developed in the absence of a unified governance structure. It may be that the unified governance structure can serve as an alternative avenue for transfer, removing the need to implement articulation policies. Students in states with one governing board may enter highly coordinated higher education systems that afford the same opportunities for transfer as do states with other governance structures that implement articulation policies.

States with a relatively tight governance structure (i.e., unitary) can facilitate transfer in a range of ways, such as designating community colleges as branches of 4-year institutions, encouraging development of cooperative agreements, instituting a common core of courses, and developing a common course numbering system.9 These practices can serve to facilitate transfer in lieu of a formal, legislatively mandated articulation policy. For example, Alaskas higher education system consists of three main universities: University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA), University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), and University of Alaska Southeast (UAS). Each has a 4-year campus and several 2-year campuses. Thus, most community colleges in Alaska are branches of state universities.10 Moreover, if students complete general education requirements at one of the institutions in the University of Alaska system, they are accepted as fulfilling those requirements at other universities. If students complete only some courses, universities provide a table of substitutions, which lists courses that can be used to fulfill the requirements at different institutions. Moreover, all universities use a common course numbering system.11 The structure of Alaskas higher education system thus provides mechanisms for transfer of students within and between universities, precluding the need for developing an articulation policy to coordinate different parts of the system. Articulation in this case is built in the structure of the system itself.

The distribution of enrollments

Another aspect of the structure of higher education is the distribution of enrollments across sectors. Following distinct historical trajectories, states exhibit a differential reliance on community colleges and 4-year institutions as providers of higher education. Figure 2A shows that although approximately 70% of students in Californias public higher education attend community colleges, fewer than 5% of undergraduates in Alaska do so. Similarly, there are vast variations in enrollments in the private sector. Over two thirds of undergraduates in 4-year institutions in Massachusetts attend private colleges and universities, whereas Wyoming reports no private 4-year enrollments (see Figure 2b).12 Enrollments are reported for year 2000, reflecting the most recent year captured by studies on articulation policies summarized in Table 1.

Figure 2A.  Articulation policies and the percentage of students in public higher education attending community colleges, by state

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Figure 2B.  Articulation policies and the percentage of students in four-year institutions attending private colleges and universities, by state

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  Note. Black  bars designate states that have articulation policies, based on the last column in Table 1.

  Source for enrollments: Digest of Education Statistics (NCES 2002).

As Figures 2a and 2b show, states with articulation policies are distributed across the full range of community college and private 4-year enrollments. Correlations between either type of enrollment and articulation policy are neither significant nor of substantial magnitude.13 However, the lack of correlation does not preclude the possibility that the effectiveness of articulation policies varies by the distribution of enrollments. Statewide articulation policies are overwhelmingly focused on public institutions (Ignash & Townsend, 2000, 2001), and the majority of community college students transfer to public institutions (NCES, 1998). Consequently, if two states have similar articulation policies but one has a strong private sector and the other has mostly public 4-year institutions, the articulation policies may surface as effective at facilitating transfer only in the latter case. Similarly, the effectiveness of an articulation policy may vary depending on the enrollment of students in 2-year versus 4-year public institutions. The demand for transfer and the preparedness of students to transferand, consequently, transfer ratesmay depend on whether public enrollments are concentrated in the 2-year or the 4-year sector.

It is impossible to determine a priori how a structure of higher education may influence transfer rates. However, because transfer is about movement of students from one type of institution (community college) to another (4-year, usually public), it is to be expected that the distribution of enrollments across sectors will play a role in shaping the flow of students in higher education. Without adequate data to calculate transfer rates across all states or an overall framework for coding articulation policies, it is impossible to determine which of the possible scenarios is more plausible. Development of new data sets that will enable researchers to examine effectiveness of articulation policies across different higher education settings is thus crucial.


The second reason that articulation policies may not appear effective is that state policy is not the only approach to facilitating transfer. As Eaton (1991) noted, Abundant transfer activity is not always accompanied by state regulatory behavior (p. 82). Students in states without articulation policies also transfer between institutions. More importantly, states without articulation policies do not necessarily leave students to their own devices. Instead, they often provide other types of mechanisms to facilitate transfer. The preceding discussion has already noted the possibility of organizing a higher education system such that the governance structure provides an impetus for transfer. Moreover, there is a vast array of transfer-related activities in states without formal statewide policies. These activities are generally confined to specific segments of higher education or negotiated individually between community colleges and nearby 4-year institutions.

New York presents an example of articulation policies developed within specific segments of higher education. The states public higher education contains two systems: the State University of New York (SUNY) system and the City University of New York (CUNY) system. Historically, the CUNY system had a general mandate to implement articulation policies, but it has been left to the individual institutions to implement them. A systemwide articulation policy was developed recently, however, that stipulates that students who graduate with an associate degree (AA, AS, or AAS) from a CUNY community college are guaranteed admission to one of the CUNY senior colleges. If transferring with an AA or AS degree, students are guaranteed at least 60 credits toward a 120-credit bachelors degree (essentially, they are guaranteed junior status at a senior institution). For students who transfer before completing an associate degree, liberal arts and sciences courses will fulfill discipline-specific distribution requirements on a discipline-by-discipline basis.14 Similarly, the traditional independence of institutions in the SUNY system has been curtailed by increased coordination. In 1998, general education requirements were developed, which are expected to be implemented by all schools in the system and transferable among them.15

In other states, institutions of higher education have voluntarily developed what effectively constitutes a systemwide articulation policy. Arizona has three state universities and a number of community colleges. Each state university provides a transfer/articulation guide that provides guidelines for transfer and permits students to see whether specific courses and programs transfer to a particular university.16 Each university also declares its prerogative in accepting courses for transfer (for example, the University of Arizona site notes, All transfer courses from Arizona public community colleges will be reviewed individually by the Director of Transfer Curriculum & Articulation and by the appropriate University departments to determine which courses are acceptable for University credit). Nevertheless, the public universities and community colleges have worked collaboratively to develop these policies. According to the Arizona Transfer Articulation Support System Web site, these voluntarily developed agreements are statewide and include factors such as the ability of students with an associate degree to apply the entire 60 credits toward their bachelors degrees (and thus effectively enter the university as juniors). In addition, successful completion of the Arizona General Education Curriculum (AGEC) requires that students have met the lower division general education requirements at any of the universities.17 It thus appears that the voluntary agreements in Arizona have created a transfer system akin to the one produced by legislative mandates in some of the other states.

Moreover, many community colleges actively work on developing articulation policies with other institutions of higher education. For example, LaGuardia Community College has developed numerous articulation agreements with 4-year institutions, both public and private; most are in New York, but some are in nearby states.18 The transfer literature provides numerous examples of successful transfer arrangements between community colleges and 4-year institutions that were developed independently by the participating institutions. Wright and Middleberg (1998) have described a long-term collaboration between New York Universitys School of Education and 11 local community colleges in establishing the Community College Transfer Opportunity Program. Similarly, Terzian (1991) has described efforts by the Community College of Philadelphia to enhance transfer through building a coherent curriculum, altering classroom practices, and building a supportive academic community (for additional examples, see Hirshberg, 1992; Hungar & Lieberman, 2001; and Zamani, 2001).


There is thus a range of practices, varying in scope and magnitude, to facilitate the transfer of students between higher education institutions. Many are not codified in the law, although they may be at some point in the future. They are based on voluntary endeavors by institutions aiming to help their students successfully navigate transitions in higher education.


One of the challenges in explaining social phenomena, especially phenomena related to schooling, has been the extensive variation within any group or unit considered. Transfer is no exception. The Transfer Assembly project reports that there is more variation in transfer rates within states than between states (Cohen, 1994, 1996). Whereas state transfer rates range from 11% to 40%, transfer rates for community colleges in California, for example, range from 3% to 42% (Cohen, 1994). Based on the Transfer Assembly formula, McHewitt and Taylor (2004) have reported transfer rates for community colleges in Virginia. Considering only transfer to public institutions, they found that the average transfer rate for the 1997 cohort was 19.8%, but institutional rates ranged from 7.3% to 27.8%. When considering transfer to both public and private institutions, transfer rates were higher, but extensive variation persisted. Particularly notable is their finding that the inclusion of private institutions in the mix did not decrease the gaps between community colleges in Virginia: Community colleges with high rates of transfer to public institutions were also those with high rates of transfer to private colleges and universities.

Vast differences in transfer rates among community colleges within states are not unique to the Transfer Assembly definition. Florida reports transfer rates based on the percentage of AA graduates who enter its 4-year institutions within 4 years of graduation. The states rates are thus substantially higher than those reported by other studies. However, even when focusing on a more selective student bodythe group of students who already demonstrated success in higher education by earning an associate degreethe variation persists. The systemwide transfer rate for the 19941995 AA graduates in Florida was 71%, but it ranged from 50% to 82% across institutions (Florida Community College System, 2001).

It may be expected that the differences in transfer rates result from certain unique circumstances of community colleges, such as the demographics of their student bodies, proximity to 4-year institutions, characteristics of neighborhoods, resources, and so on. However, even when community college transfer rates are adjusted for a host of these confounding factors, variation persists. Bahr et al. (2005) have reported that community college transfer rates in California range from 22% to 50%. After adjusting for a set of potentially confounding characteristics (and thus, arguably, presenting a more accurate representation of transfer rates), the numbers and relative order of colleges changed; however, the variation remained, with transfer rates ranging from 16% to 49%.

Although descriptive information on transfer rates abounds, it is much less clear what influences student success (see Kozeracki, 2001, for a review) and, consequently, what explains differences in transfer rates across institutions. One interesting finding that emerged from the Transfer Assembly Projects endeavors to understand variation across community colleges is that high- and low-transfer colleges are alike in many ways in terms of articulation policies, course numbering systems, attitudes of faculty advisors, faculty exchange between 2-year and 4-year institutions, and mandatory orientation policies, for example. However, there were some notable differences: High-transfer-rate colleges had a visible and vigorous transfer center staff, an accessible university with low grade-point averages for transferring students, a staff with expectations regarding transfer, and a history of high transfer (Cohen, 1996, p. 31). High- and low-transfer-rate colleges also had different student bodies, with students in high-transfer colleges being more likely to indicate transfer as their academic objective (Cohen, 1996). Considering the extensive variation in transfer rates across institutions, whatever the causes, it is not surprising that researchers cannot effectively isolate the influence of state policies on students likelihood of transfer.


Following trends in the literature, the preceding discussion presented an evaluation of the influence (or lack thereof) of articulation policies on transfer of students from community colleges to 4-year institutions. However, baccalaureate success may be a more appropriate focus of inquiry. Articulation policies are first and foremost about curriculum alignment; they aim to align curricula between community colleges and 4-year institutions and thus decrease the number of credits that students lose in the transfer process. As such, these policies are not designed to increase transfer per se; that is, they are generally not implemented to increase the interest of students in transferring or to address the myriad factors hindering an individuals likelihood of transfer (such as prior academic achievement and attendance patterns). Instead, they have been developed to facilitate a smooth transition for students who have decided to make the journey from community colleges to 4-year institutions.

Indeed, the focus on preserving credits is clearly reflected in state statutes. Roksa and Keith (2008) have reported that legislators justify the implementation of articulation agreements in terms of protecting students from losing credits, thereby curtailing unnecessary duplication and cost. In addition, with respect to specific actions legislated, state statutes often require that 4-year institutions accept credits earned at community collegesindividually or as a block of common core of coursesor that they admit associate of arts graduates as juniors. Consequently, articulation policies may not influence transfer as much as they may affect the completion of a bachelors degree, particularly in a timely manner.

Because community college systems generally collect and report only information on transfer, publicly available state reports rarely include data on bachelors degree completion or time to degree. Individual-level studies based largely on descriptive information suggest that transfer students and native 4-year students have similar rates of bachelors degree completion (e.g., Barry & Barry, 1992; Melguizo & Dowd, 2006; NCES, 1997). However, that comparison does not shed any light on whether articulation policies are successful in achieving their mission of credit preservation. Without detailed state data containing coursework completed at community colleges and 4-year institutions, two avenues can be pursued to gain a glimpse of whether articulation policies enhance degree attainment. The first is an examination of the relationship between the proportion of students attending community colleges and bachelors degree production in states with articulation policies and those without. The other is an estimate of individual-level models of bachelors degree attainment, focusing on differences in articulation policies between states.

Community colleges have long been criticized for hindering bachelors degree attainment (Brint & Karabel, 1989; Clark, 1960). On the state level, Orfield and Paul (1992) argued that states with large community college systems have lower rates of bachelors degree attainment. A common way of examining this relationship is to juxtapose the proportion of community college enrollments with bachelors degree production (the number of bachelors degrees awarded divided by total enrollment).19 Figure 3 shows that, as might be expected from the critiques of community colleges, the relationship between the proportion of students attending these institutions and bachelors degree production is negative. Moreover, the relationship is negative both for states with and without articulation policies.

Figure 3. Percentage of students in public higher education attending community colleges and bachelors degree production, by state

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Source: Digest of Education Statistics, National Center for Education Statistics, 2002, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

It is crucial to note that this bivariate relationship does not imply causation. The negative relationship can emerge for numerous reasons, including state reasoning for relying on community colleges and developing articulation policies, historical trends in degree production, the structure of higher education, and preparation in the K12 system. Moreover, bachelors degree  production is more directly a function of 4-year institutions than of community colleges. For example, despite its remarkable set of policies promoting transfer, Florida is ranked 44th nationally in the number of bachelors degrees produced. Florida has about average transfer rates (based on the Transfer Assembly formula) but very low bachelors degree completion: 31% for transfer students and 26% for 4-year entrants (Hungar & Lieberman, 2001). Moreover, students in Florida appear not to be as well prepared for higher education: Florida ranked 46th in the average SAT scores (NCES, 2001) and 34th in the NAEP eighth-grade math scores (authors calculation). Thus, low bachelors degree production can hardly be blamed solely on community colleges or inadequate transfer.

An alternative way of assessing the relationship between community colleges and bachelors degree attainment is to consider how community colleges are related to the proportion of the population 25 years of age and older and holding college degrees or higher. As Figure 4 demonstrates, although there is essentially no overall relationship between the two variables, there is a notable difference between states with articulation policies and those without. In states with articulation policies, the relationship is actually positive and of modest magnitude. Again, this relationship does not imply causation or explain the mechanisms that may be behind the observed patterns. It does call for caution and highlight the need for a more careful examination of the relationship between community colleges and bachelors degree attainment, particularly in states with articulation policies.

Figure 4. Percentage of students in public higher education attending community colleges and percentage of the population with a college degree, by state

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Source: Digest of Education Statistics, National Center for Education Statistics, 2002, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

In addition to state analyses, the role of articulation policies in facilitating bachelors degree completion can be examined on the individual level. Because articulation policies are built on the notion of preserving credits, students in states with articulation agreements would be expected to lose fewer credits in the transfer process, possibly leading to an increased likelihood of completing a bachelors degree, particularly in a timely manner. Recent analyses relying on the NELS 19882000 have found null effects of articulation policies on bachelors degree attainment and on credits and time needed to earn a bachelors degree (Roksa & Keith, 2008). These findings require corroboration in future research, however, because the samples used in analyses are relatively small and thus may not adequately capture the effects of articulation policies.


There is little evidence to date to suggest that statewide articulation policies are effective in facilitating transfer or baccalaureate degree attainment, but that may be less a reflection of the policies themselves and more a reflection of our inability to effectively evaluate them. As Brawer (1991) noted, Too many definitions are in use, too few reliable datasets available, and too limited a number of practitioners are working to ameliorate these deficiencies (p. 48). The situation has become more optimistic in the last decade. An increasing number of practitioners and scholars are developing the tools for evaluating transfer, and an increasing number of states are acknowledging the importance of this educational transition. I conclude by highlighting three areas that require careful attention by scholars, practitioners, and policy makers. They are intertwined and require joint consideration but are separated for clarity of presentation. Moreover, two critical issues underlie the discussion in all three sections: collaboration and coordination. It is clear that the transfer enterprise, in either action or evaluation, cannot succeed without collaboration and coordination (Bender, 1990, 1991; Knoell, 1990, 1996). Without those two forces guiding the endeavors, the time, energy, and resources invested in measuring and understanding transfer will lead to less than optimal results.


Lack of adequate data is one of the most pervasive problems in the literature on transfer. A number of scholars have noted that lack of data is one of the major stumbling blocks in developing a common measure of transfer and building a better understanding of factors influencing this educational transition. Currently available national data sets pose challenges because they are not representative of institutions or students in higher education and/or do not include representative samples in each state (e.g., BPS, NELS). Conversely, voluntary endeavors, such as the Transfer Assembly Project, do not include all states and/or a random sample of higher education institutions. Furthermore, many state efforts are still relatively new and thus include a limited amount of information that is not widely accessible or used, except for reporting transfer rates for accountability purposes. Even if data are being collected, 2-year and 4-year institutions often collect information separately, posing bureaucratic and resource challenges for tracking the progress of transfer students toward a bachelors degree in 4-year institutions.

Although data challenges persist, several recent advancements hold promise for improving our understanding of transfer. With respect to national data, the most recent waves of the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS) and the Beginning Postsecondary Students (BPS) Longitudinal Study include an oversample of students in 12 states, making state-level analyses possible. A number of states have developed exemplary data sets for tracking students in higher education, including California, Florida, and Texas. Moreover, an increasing number of states are investing in the development of comprehensive P16 data systems, often with support of federal government and private foundations (see Wickenden & Noeth, 2006, for a review of recent efforts). Sustaining these endeavors over time, especially as states implement and alter existing articulation policies, will provide crucial information about the influence of articulation policies on the transfer process. Finally, states are now able to complement their endeavors with data from the National Student Clearinghouse, enabling them to track students who transfer to private institutions or out of state (for an example, see Romano & Wisniewski, 2003).

While the fervor surrounding data collection is encouraging, the lack of overall coordination is disconcerting. At present, a lot of information is being collected, but not much of it is easily accessible or comparable across institutions or states. To facilitate the understanding of transfer and development of effective policies, consistency of information, which allows for comparisons within and across states, is crucial. It appears clear that the states hold the most promise in collecting good transfer data. They have the primary responsibility for educating their residents, manifested in their key role in both regulating and financing public higher education. In the current era of accountability, most states already require institutions to report certain types of data. If centralized state offices coordinate data collection, they can ensure consistency across institutions. They can also link information across institutions more effectively and efficiently than individual institutions trying to track each of their students. Moreover, by partnering with the National Student Clearinghouse, states can obtain information on students who transfer outside the public higher education system.

Although state governments can provide coordination within their boundaries, it is also important to achieve at least some level of coordination across states. If each state follows its own trajectory, collecting only the data that it deems fit, it will be impossible to conduct national analyses or comparisons across states. The federal government could play a role by requiring states to report certain types of information. This is not about posing a choice between universalism and uniqueness but about attempting to strike a balance between the two extremes. Each state could continue to collect any information it deems relevant but would be asked to report a core set of data that would guarantee comparability across states. The federal government could then make this information available via a special transfer information supplement of the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

Collecting data on transfer must combine the differing strengths of each part of higher education. Institutions can collect raw data, state agencies can compile them and develop measures of transfer, and the federal government can provide guidelines for a core set of data; the states would report the data to the federal government, which would make them available for research purposes. Making this effort a success would require much collaboration among all parties involved. What is encouraging is that the mechanisms to facilitate this collaboration are already in place: The state and federal governments already collect and report much information on higher education. The challenge that remains is to mobilize existing structures in a manner that is conducive to consistently measuring transfer from community colleges to 4-year institutions.


Once the structures for collecting data are in place, the question is, What type of data should be collected? As the first two sections of this article demonstrate, gaining consensus on definitions and measurement is central to making progress in the discussion of transfer. Transfer success is the first key concept in need of definition. Thinking about it as a process, transfer involves three stages: preparation in a community college, transfer to a 4-year institution, and completion of a bachelors degree. Currently, most assessment efforts have focused on the middle category: measurement of transfer rates. Community college researchers and administrators, however, are increasingly calling for an assessment of transfer readiness, which would measure the extent to which community colleges prepare students for transfer (see Spicer & Armstrong, 1996, for a review). The least discussed option is the tracking of students after they transfer to 4-year institutions, in particular to ascertain whether they complete a bachelors degree.

There is a range of measurement issues within each of these categories. For example, what types of students should be included in the calculation of transfer rates, and how long should they be followed? What constitutes transfer readiness, and which students should be considered in this evaluation? How long should students be followed in 4-year institutions to determine whether they have completed a bachelors degree? The third measure, educational attainment, also faces the challenge of shared accountability; it defines transfer success as the joint responsibility of 2-year and 4-year institutions. Transfer has traditionally been defined as a community college issue, and only community colleges have been held accountable for this transition; however, by definition, transfer involves both 2-year and 4-year institutions because the final success, the goal of transfer (i.e., earning a bachelors degree), is a joint endeavor.

Another important dimension of definition and measurement is deciding on the comparison group. Previous research on educational attainment has amply documented that community college students do not fare well when compared with students who begin their education in 4-year institutions, but they emerge much more favorably in comparisons with students who do not enter higher education. The critical question underlying these comparisons is: Absent the community college option, would students currently attending community colleges attend 4-year institutions, or would they opt out of higher education? (For some recent evidence, see Leigh & Gill, 2003; Rouse, 1995, 1998.) Similarly, with respect to transfer, the critical issue is to decide which individuals constitute the comparison group to transfer students. Different comparison groups will provide widely different conclusions regarding the success (or failure) of the transfer function and, by extension, articulation policies.

I do not perceive that it is necessary to search for the measure of transfer success, nor do I believe it to be productive. It seems important, however, to measure different aspects of the transfer process because they each provide different insights into its challenges and successes. Regarding the specific definition, it is helpful to keep the Transfer Assembly principles in mind: Definitions should be valid, readily understandable, and based on feasibly obtainable data (Cohen, 1994, 1996). A national commission consisting of representatives of all stakeholders affected by the transfer issue could propose a set of measures that meet these principles and assess different stages of the transfer process. Each institution and state could collect additional information that it deems important for its specific circumstances. But it is crucial that there be at least several measures of transfer success that are consistent across institutions and states; these measures can then be used to obtain a more adequate understanding of transfer at the national level and to examine variation within and between states.


One of the myriad challenges in assessing the effectiveness of higher education is the complexity of goals involved. What is higher education supposed to accomplish? Similarly, the question of transfer success could produce plenty of responses, depending on what aspect of transfer is being considered. The debate about the best assessment of transfer success can thus be endless, and never produce a satisfactory solution. What appears crucial in making progress in evaluating transfer is defining the goals as clearly as possible. Doing so does not automatically produce a clear assessment mechanism, but it circumscribes the discussion to a smaller set of parameters and increases the likelihood that the measures obtained will answer the questions asked.

For example, if the goal is to evaluate the effectiveness of current statewide articulation policies, transfer rates are not the best assessment mechanism. As discussed in the previous section, the stated intent of statewide policies is to create a seamless transition through higher education and preserve the credits earned at different types of institutions. Consequently, more appropriate assessment measures would be factors such as the number of credits lost in transfer, the amount of time (in full-time equivalent semesters) that students took to earn a bachelors degree, the likelihood of earning a bachelors degree, and so on. If the goal is to increase baccalaureate degree attainment of community college students, then all three stages of the transfer process need to be examined: How well are students prepared for transfer in community colleges? What is the transfer rate? What is the bachelors degree completion rate? Examining one of those stages would be informative but would not necessarily provide guidance for policy intervention. If the goal is to develop an accountability schema for community colleges, a value-added framework may be of interest. A transfer rate of 25% does not mean much by itself; however, depending on the transfer rates of other institutions and the characteristics of their student bodies, geography, resources, and so on, it can become more meaningful. Twenty-five percent could be above and beyond what might be expected of a community college with certain characteristics and operating in a specific state and local setting.

Another goal of transfer may be to decrease racial inequality in higher education. Community colleges that have low overall transfer rates also tend to have low transfer rates for racial/ethnic minority students, although the gaps between racial/ethnic groups vary across institutions. In the Transfer Assembly Project, the Black-White transfer gap at institutions in the top quartile was 12.5% but only 3.7% in the bottom quartile (Cohen, 1996). Similarly, the Florida Community College System (2001) reported a variation in the gap between White and racial/ethnic minority transfer rates across institutions, and some community colleges have discrepant transfer rates for White and racial/ethnic minority students when compared with state averages (Sotello & Turner, 1992). In the era when state systems are discontinuing affirmative action or scaling down their efforts, community colleges are increasingly discussed as an avenue for facilitating postsecondary attendance and bachelors degree attainment of racial/ethnic minority students (e.g., Hebel, 2000; Wellman, 2002). If increasing bachelors degree attainment of racial/ethnic minority students is the goal, information regarding different aspects of transfer needs to be collected in a manner that allows for disaggregation by racial/ethnic groups.

Deciding on the goals allows for alignment of measurement with desired outcomes. It also provides the groundwork for effective policy development. Discussion about goals, of course, brings to the forefront the issue of collaboration. Different players in the higher education arena often have different goals. Explicit statements about those goals, as well as efforts to align them (such that, for example, transfer and success of community college students is considered both a 2-year and a 4-year issue), provide the building blocks for dealing with all the other issues, from measurement and data collection to accountability. Fostering collaboration in higher education is far from an easy feat. But with some encouraging examples already in place and an increasing awareness that collaboration is the key to facilitating transfer, the future may produce more endeavors guided by the principles of collaboration and coordination, and thus more adequate ways to measure and foster transfer success.


If the countrys major commitment to access, equality, and quality is to be met primarily through its community colleges, the path from these institutions to four-year schools needs to be wide, direct, and uncluttered.

National Center for Academic Achievement and Transfer, 1991, p. 4

Currently, neither the path to transfer nor our understanding of transfer meets these criteria. Surveying the transfer literature reveals the diversity of definitions, measurements, data, and analytical methods used that makes it virtually impossible to arrive at any coherent conclusions. Despite all these efforts to analyze the transfer process, the most fundamental types of questionssuch as whether community colleges are successful at facilitating transfer and bachelors degree attainment and whether articulation policies are effectivelack satisfactory answers.

The confusion in the literature reflects the confusion on the ground. States, and often institutions within states, engage in a range of endeavors related to student transfer, collect different information, report different measures of success, and rarely evaluate their efforts. Whereas in some states, the 2-year and 4-year public sectors have been relatively closely aligned, in others, they have developed almost as separate entities. Even in states with relatively close alignment between sectors, there is often less than perfect collaboration (e.g., see Prager, 1993). Moreover, even in states such as Florida and California, with extensive efforts in building collaboration between 2-year and 4-year institutions, each sector collects its own data. Requests and justifications are needed to obtain the data for the whole system. Not surprisingly, joint data are rarely used for much more than the basic question of how many students transfer from community colleges to 4-year institutions.

Moreover, there is little direct evaluation of current endeavors. State articulation policies are mostly assumed to be effective, with little data or analysis provided to support that expectation. Floridas articulation policy is often used as an exemplar of effective transfer legislation, but the state has average transfer rates and one of the lowest rates of bachelors degree production. Another state often highlighted with respect to transfer is California, which has invested much effort in coordinating different segments of higher education. However, California has been criticized for an incoherent approach to transfer that has resulted in a bureaucratic maze that functions well for those able to work through it but loses many others (Hungar & Lieberman, 2001, p. 102).

Although the current state of knowledge and data collection fail to provide satisfactory answers, much energy and effort and many resources are being invested in assessing and evaluating transfer in higher education. If these investments can be effectively coordinated, such that a set of uniform measures is developed across institutions and states, future research may be able to provide more insights into the effectiveness of transfer policies and practices. With approximately half of students in public higher education attending community colleges and with an increasing number of states moving transfer under the accountability umbrella, the need to collaborate on developing common goals and appropriate data sets and measures is becoming increasingly urgent.


Research for this report was supported by the Transitions to College Program of the Social Science Research Council, with funds provided by the Lumina Foundation for Education. Many thanks to program participants and advisory board members for insightful discussions and guidance in preparation of this manuscript. Direct correspondence to Josipa Roksa, University of Virginia, Department of Sociology, P.O. Box 400766, Charlottesville, VA 22904, or jroksa@virginia.edu.


1. This form of transfer has been referred to as vertical transfer, traditional transfer, 2-4 transfer, or community college-baccalaureate transfer.

2. This is not the only issue, but it is the most salient one. Other issues include considerations such as whether data should be collected cross-sectionally or longitudinally (with the latter being increasingly accepted as more valid but more demanding to collect), the amount of time students would have to transfer, and so on.

3. Transfer to private institutions may have increased, though, at least for traditional-age students in recent cohorts. Of the 1992 high school graduates in NELS who entered community colleges by fall 1994, approximately 20% of students who had transferred by 2000 made the transition to a private institution (authors calculations).

4. NCES (1997) reported that, among transfers, students spent 20 months in a community college on average. In addition, authors calculations based on NELS suggest that 80% of students transferred within 4 years.

5. For some explanations about why states are implementing articulation policies, see Anderson, Sun, & Alfonso (2006), Bender (1990), Ignash & Townsend (2001), and Robertson & Frier (1996).

6. Calculated based on a cohort of community college students in Florida and compared with the national transfer rate provided by the Transfer Assembly Project.

7. Statewide articulation policies are coded based on Keith & Roksa (2008), censored in 1992, when the NELS sample graduated from high school and began entering higher education.

8. Almost identical results are obtained if one considers states with one governing board based on the ECS (2003) report. From 11 states designated as having a one-board governance structure, only one has a statewide articulation policy: Kansas.

9. These mechanisms are not available only to states with unitary governance structures. Indeed, many states that implement articulation agreements rely on the same practices. The difference is that the structure of higher education with these mechanisms in place may serve as a substitute for articulation policy.

10. One community college (Prince William Sound Community College) is a separately accredited institution.

11. Information obtained July 11, 2006, from http://www.alaska.edu, http://uaonline.alaska.edu/, and http://www.uaf.edu/admissions/transfer/uasubs.html. See also ECS (2001).

12. Private 2-year institutions are not considered here because they constitute a very small proportion of all 2-year enrollments (4%). Moreover, transfer is not a key mission of 2-year private institutions, and they are not included in statewide transfer policies (or in current research on transfer).

13. There is an apparent concentration of states with articulation policies at the bottom of the private 4-year distribution. Although the correlation of articulation policy and private enrollment is not significant, correlation between states in the bottom one third of private enrollments and articulation policy is significant at p < 0.10 (r = 0.245).

14. Information obtained July 11, 2006, from http://www.cuny.edu and http://tipps.cuny.edu/transferpolicies.html.

15. Information obtained July 11, 2006, from http://www.suny.edu/Student/academic_general_education.cfm.

16. For respective university Web sites, see http://transferguides.arizona.edu/ for the University of Arizona, http://students.asu.edu/transfer-admission for Arizona State University, and http://www4.nau.edu/aio/Articulation/TGInfo.htm for Northern Arizona University.

17. For additional information, see http://www.az.transfer.org/cas/atass/student/model.html.

18. Information obtained July 11, 2006, from http://www.lagcc.cuny.edu/transfercenter/taa.htm.

19. Both enrollment and bachelors degree completion are coded for the same year in Figure 3. However, the results are not substantively altered if enrollment is coded 6 or 8 years earlier (and thus potentially allowing the entering cohort to complete their degrees).


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Coding of statewide articulation policies:


Education Commission of the States (2001)States that have written transfer and articulation policy into legislation through statutes, bills, or resolutions.


Keith and Roksa (2008)States that have specific statutes regarding articulation and transfer.


Ignash and Townsend (2000, 2001)Codes obtained by sending an e-mail questionnaire to the executive directors of state higher education and community college agencies in the spring of 1999. The pertinent question is: Does your state have a statewide articulation agreement about the transfer of college courses?


Anderson, Sun, and Alfonso (2006)States that have statewide articulation policies if they have formalized mandates in place stipulating that the completion of a defined program or set of courses would be transferable to a public four-year institution within the state (p. 273). This code is censored in 1991 and obtained by searching state statutes, surveying state higher education executive officers, and corroborating these findings by literature searches.

Classifying states by whether they have a statewide articulation policy hides much variation between different policies. Two of the studies outlined above have aimed to address this issue by classifying states according to the strength of their articulation policies.


Ignash and Townsend (2000, 2001) divided states into five categories, ranging from strong to no articulation. The categorization is based on four measures: transfer direction (only vertical 2-4; or other combinations, including 2-2, 2-4 in either direction, reverse transfer), sectors included in the policy, transfer components (associate degrees, general education, requirements for majors, and so on), and faculty involvement. These factors are considered important based on the seven principles of good practice that authors derived from the previous literature. According to this categorization, five statesCalifornia, Georgia, Illinois, North Dakota, and Ohioare coded as having a strong statewide articulation policy.


Keith and Roksa (2008) developed a 7-point schema. After dividing states according to whether they have articulation policies, the authors classified states based on five criteria: (1) intent to structure articulation agreements among institutions, (2) mandate or requirement to structure articulation agreements, (3) identification of a not-to-exceed data when the requirement will be implemented, (4) description of transfer program/courses, including content areas and numbers of credit hours, and (5) stated intent/requirement to develop a common course numbering system. Only two statesFlorida and Texassatisfy all the criteria, and nine states have very weak policies simply noting the intent to develop articulation policies.


Anderson, G. M., Sun, J. C., & Alfonso M. (2006). Effectiveness of statewide articulation agreements on the probability of transfer: A preliminary policy analysis. Review of Higher Education, 29, 261291.

Education Commission of the States. (2001). State notes: Transfer and articulation policies. Denver, CO: Author.

Ignash, J. M., & Townsend, B. K. (2000). Evaluating state-level articulation agreements according to good practice. Community College Review, 28(3), 1-21.

Ignash, J. M., & Townsend, B. K. (2001). Statewide transfer and articulation policies: Current practices and emerging issues. In B. K. Townsend & S. B. Twombly (Eds.), Community colleges: Policy in the future context (pp. 173192).Westport, CT: Ablex.

Keith, B., & Roksa, J. (2008, March). Toward a conceptual definition of articulation in American higher education. Paper presented at the annual conference of the American Educational Research Association, New York, NY.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 111 Number 10, 2009, p. 2444-2478
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15716, Date Accessed: 10/16/2021 10:32:14 PM

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About the Author
  • Josipa Roksa
    University of Virginia
    E-mail Author
    JOSIPA ROKSA is assistant professor of sociology at the University of Virginia. Her research focuses on understanding inequality in access and attainment in higher education, and in particular, how social contexts shape student outcomes. Prof. Roksa’s research on community colleges has been published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Review of Higher Education, and Research in Social Stratification and Mobility. She is also conducting a study on the inequality in learning in higher education as well as several projects examining the patterns and consequences of employment during college.
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