CSB, SJU revamp credit rules on community college transfers

Academics Campus & Community

June 3, 2021

(A version of this article first appeared on the Minnesota Private College Council’s Campus View.)

The College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University are revamping how they’ll award credit for work students do at community colleges and bring with them as transfers.

CSB and SJU have recently decided to accept the Minnesota Transfer Curriculum and associate of arts degrees earned in certain states as meeting their own core curriculum requirements, with some caveats. These changes will allow for simpler block transfers that satisfy foundational integrations curriculum courses at CSB and SJU.

These policies are now in place at 12 member institutions of the Minnesota Private College Council.

Seventy five percent of students today attend more than one institution along the way, pointed out Barb May, academic dean and professor of biology at CSB and SJU.

“We need to understand that students approach higher education in different ways, and there are opportunities to welcome those different approaches,” May said. “Just because they didn’t start with us doesn’t mean they can’t learn from us in those remaining two years.”

The changing views of students and their parents of how they want to pursue a bachelor’s degree was a driver for CSB and SJU. And the result is greater clarity for community college students.

“I have worked with our community college partners for many years and am thrilled to be able to offer these options to them as they advise students,” said Teri Weller Durbin ’86, director of admission services at CSB and SJU. “We have a fantastic education to offer and I am so excited to make it more accessible to their students.”

Making it work

Considering this change has been an involved process at all 12 institutions. It has involved considering just what elements of course requirements should still be preserved in some way for transfers.

At Saint Ben's and Saint John’s, remaining requirements include an upper-level theology course, a course that explores culture and social differences and a course that focuses on how students integrate their learning.

Even as the institutions worked to ease the path for students coming in with credits, they weighed carefully just what is distinct about how they educate students that should be preserved. Decisions about associate degree acceptance required careful review as well.

Another challenge can be gaining the necessary support. Faculty have responsibility for the curriculum, so these changes all involved extensive review and votes by faculty committees for these changes at these institutions. Presidents, provosts and other leaders were key as well to getting these changes made.

The opportunity to teach transfer students, even if it isn’t for all four years, was part of what appealed to other institutions as well.

Looking ahead

Both CSB and SJU are seeing more steps ahead as they seek to more fully welcome and support community college students.

Strengthening relationships with individual community colleges and among faculty there are one key step. Saint Ben’s and Saint John’s have been working more closely with nearby Ridgewater College (campuses in Willmar and Hutchinson, Minnesota) and St. Cloud (Minnesota) Community and Technical College.

Expanding support for community college students and building a transfer-friendly culture is another priority. Reviewing and revising advising is another area to address, May noted.

All these institutions see the need to take more steps to address the mechanics around how students bring credits, including major-specific plans to help ensure that a student coming with an associate degree, for example, is able to complete a major in two more years.

At Saint Ben’s and Saint John’s, development of major-specific pathways with nearby community colleges has begun, with good progress for education, art and physics majors. The key to success, May said, has been bringing faculty from community colleges and the private colleges together.

“We are really trying to be more transfer friendly and honor the work students do elsewhere before they come here,” May said. “We’d love them in year one but we will welcome them in year three, too.”

If you are interested in transferring from a community college to CSB or SJU, please contact Teri Weller Durbin ‘86, director of admission services at CSB and SJU, at 320-363-5852.

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