Report on Program Articulation, Bridges Program Meeting

Leesburg, VA

Start Date: 3/14/1999 7:00 AM

End Date: 3/16/1999 4:30 PM

The Bridges to the Future Program is designed to facilitate the transition of underrepresented minority students between 2- and 4-year colleges and between M.S. and Ph.D. degree programs in areas of science relevant to biomedical research. It is central to the success of Bridges programs that students move between partner institutions without facing unnecessary regulations or barriers. This document reports on discussions held by program directors, program coordinators, and institutional officials from a variety of institutions funded by the Bridges to the Future Program at the Bridges Program Meeting, held March 14-16, 1999 in Leesburg, VA.

Why is articulation important?

Articulation guarantees that certain courses can be transferred from one institution to another. Good articulation of courses and programs saves students time and money because it eliminates the need to repeat courses. Just as important, it prevents students from becoming discouraged when their hard work at one institution is not recognized at another. Articulation is important to keeping students in the educational system.

Where articulation agreements work, faculty have useful guidelines regarding the content and skills students should master before continuing to the next level of their education. Likewise, articulation provides assurance to faculty at the second level institution that incoming students have a certain level of preparation in both content and scientific process.

How common are articulation agreements among educational institutions?

There are many models of articulation, even among Bridges programs where articulation agreements are required. Examples include the following:

  • Some states have comprehensive articulation agreements that cover all community and senior institutions. In some cases, the agreements also include private institutions. Such agreements generally establish a common course numbering system, convert all institutions to a common semester (or quarter) system, and establish a common set of core courses.
  • Some states have comprehensive articulation agreements that allow departments to modify the course requirements. For example, senior institutions may choose not to accept organic chemistry credits from community colleges.
  • Some states have set up discipline-based advisory committees responsible for articulation between institutions.
  • In many states, each institution must negotiate its own agreements.
  • Private institutions generally negotiate individual articulation agreements with their partners.

What makes articulation work?

  • Agreement on course content and essential skills--Faculty at partner institutions must be involved in setting the standards and curricula for courses. Because of the sensitive nature of recommendations about course content, it may be prudent for community college faculty to initiate the discussions with 4-year institutions. In the case of M.S./Ph.D. programs, it is important to identify the research skills that students need to make successful transitions. Once the agreements are negotiated, it is important to actually teach the agreed-upon content and skills.

    Articulation of course content and skills cannot be separated from access to facilities and equipment. Agreements may need to address how to provide students equivalent experiences and skills even when resources are uneven.

    The sequence of courses is also important. Again, faculty should be central to negotiating course sequence.

  • Good advising--Many students are not cognizant of the importance of getting a balanced and rigorous education. Community college students may delay taking required core courses and then be far behind when they try to take upper-division courses. Masters students may fail to get adequate laboratory experience before entering a research-intensive Ph.D. program. Faculty on both sides of the bridge should advise students of the requirements for transfer and for success in advanced studies.
  • Focus on outcomes, not just content--Successful articulations address thinking and laboratory skills as well as mastery of content. It is necessary to focus attention beyond the course number or number of hours in class.
  • Get support of both faculty and administration--Both faculty and administrators need to accept the importance of articulation. The process seems to work best when it starts with faculty and moves upward. One of the challenges is to negotiate reasonable faculty expectations on both sides of the bridge.
  • Be creative
    • Community colleges might invite faculty from a senior institution to serve as members of a curriculum advisory council.
    • Faculty from a senior institution might offer to teach, advise, and mentor students at a community college.
    • Ph.D. programs may offer intermediate courses to help transfer students gain skills.
    • Faculty at all levels should seek opportunities to learn about the challenges and opportunities faced in other institutions.
    • To improve advising, institutions might prepare a common syllabus with course and research requirements and descriptions.
    • Set up advising teams consisting of 2- and 4-year faculty or M.S. and Ph.D. faculty.
    • Allow students to take courses on any of the partner campuses.
    • Some faculty may be appointed as adjunct between partner campuses.
  • Review articulation agreements regularly--Partner institutions must assess and review agreements at regular intervals to assure they are working well and to incorporate new courses, student and faculty needs, and new opportunities.

What role does the Bridges to the Future Program play?

The success of Bridges to the Future Program depends on students' ability to make transitions between partner institutions. Thus, Bridges programs may be useful models for how well articulation agreements are working. As data accumulate about the outcomes for Bridges students, we should look at the relation between student success and nature and extent of articulation agreements. Even anecdotal information would provide some guidance about elements of agreements that work well. The prospect of funding for Bridges programs increases the likelihood that statewide agreements will be developed and implemented.

It is apparent that the Bridges to the Future Program has had some impact already. For example, Bridges has established new lines of communication among institutions, leading to greater trust and respect between faculty at partner institutions. In turn, this has increased the degree to which faculty in partner institutions seek each other's recommendations about students' capabilities and research potential, curricula, and resources.

Bridges has the strongest impact on a targeted, small population. Although it cannot reasonably be expected to have a broad educational impact, it can serve as a useful model both for minority and majority programs.​