Letters to the Editor

System streamlines degree plans

The first goal of the Action Plan for Higher Education (March 2009) is to make South Carolina one of the most educated states in the nation. To accomplish this goal, we must increase the number of South Carolinians who hold bachelor's degrees. We must also create more seamless educational pathways for students and increase transfer rates from two-year to four-year institutions so that more students, including adults, graduate in a timely manner.

We must do these things in spite of the terrible recession and the estimated $1 billion state budget deficit projected for next year. We must do these things in spite of the reductions of almost 50 percent to the operating budgets of our public colleges and universities.

But how? The answer lies, at least in part, in increased collaboration and creative use of technology.

A new online tool to help students move seamlessly between institutions and obtain up-to-date information about transfer credits and course equivalencies went live April 1: the S.C. Transfer and Articulation Center.

The Web portal at www.sctrac.org will help students find transfer agreements between institutions and search for courses that will transfer from one institution to another. Students can obtain information about degree programs that are offered, learn about courses and read course descriptions. They can also locate other critical information related to transfer including admission and transfer requirements, application deadlines and contact information for institutional transfer officers and academic advisers. S.C. TRAC allows students to find the information they need easily, all on a single website.

Developed in support of the goals of the Education and Economic Development Act, S.C. TRAC can help students make better decisions about the courses they take. Students enrolled in a two-year institution can use the system to avoid taking too many credits that do not count toward the requirements for a specific bachelor's degree. Such students could also avoid taking too few of the right courses, which would result in the need to take additional general education courses that cost more at a four-year institution.

S.C. TRAC is already demonstrating its usefulness to students. Barbara Buckner, associate provost of Coastal Carolina University, provided one example of a student who was originally awarded a transfer credit to CCU for only three classes. A few days before S.C. TRAC was announced, the student persuaded the transfer officer that more of her coursework should be considered for transfer credit. Using the course descriptions and equivalencies provided on S.C. TRAC, the transfer officer decided to award credit for seven courses. Easy. Efficient. Up-to-date. On track.

S.C. TRAC also provides information to high school students who may be taking courses for college credit. These students can use the system to determine which dual enrollment and advanced placement courses will transfer to the college or university they plan to attend. Because information on the site is updated frequently, students have access to the most accurate and current information available.

Finally, adults with some college coursework but no degree can access the site to plan their degree completion by learning how prior coursework will transfer to degree programs at public institutions in the state. Given the fact that there are an estimated 544,000 such adults in the state, S.C. TRAC can provide these adult learners with access to an invaluable academic advising service. Free. 24/7. Online.

According to David K. Moldoff, founder and chief executive of AcademyOne, which developed S.C. TRAC, "states that develop a coordinated approach to college transfer and evaluation of prior coursework are going to be ahead of the game when it comes to work force and economic development. The investment will ultimately save money and provide improved service to citizens."

Morrison is deputy director of the S.C. Commission on Higher Education. Zuker is Chairwoman and Chief Executive of The InterTech Group, member of the Education and Economic Development Act Coordinating Council, and chair of the Medical University of South Carolina Foundation Board.