Western Association of Schools and Colleges Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities

Transfer of Credit Policy

The Commission recognizes that each institution is responsible for determining its own policies and practices with regard to the transfer and award of credit. Institutions are encouraged to review their policies and practices periodically to ensure that they accomplish the institution’s objectives and that they function in a manner that is fair and equitable to students. As part of its review for candidacy, initial accreditation, or reaffirmation of accreditation, WASC will confirm that the institution has publicly disclosed its transfer of credit policies, including a statement of the criteria it has established regarding the acceptance of credit earned at another institution of higher education. The following principles and criteria should be considered by an institution as it formulates its policies on acceptance of transfer credit.

Transfer of credit is a concept that involves transfer between dissimilar institutions and curricula and recognition of extra-institutional learning, as well as transfer between institutions and curricula of similar characteristics. As their personal circumstances and educational objectives change, students seek to have their learning, wherever and however attained, recognized by institutions where they enroll for further study. It is important, for reasons of social equity and educational effectiveness, as well as for the wise use of resources, for all institutions to develop reasonable and definitive policies and procedures for acceptance of transfer of credit. Such policies and procedures should provide maximum consideration for the individual student who has changed institutions or objectives. It is the receiving institution’s responsibility to provide reasonable and definitive policies and procedures for determining a student’s knowledge in required subject areas. All institutions have a responsibility to furnish transcripts and other documents necessary for a receiving institution to judge the quality and quantity of a student’s work. Institutions also have a responsibility to advise students that the work reflected on the transcript may or may not be accepted by a receiving institution.

Accredited Institutions

Accreditation speaks primarily to the quality of the institution from which the student transfers, serving as the basic indicator that an institution meets certain minimum standards. In reviewing the accreditation status of an institution, special attention should be paid to whether the accrediting agency has received recognition from the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Although accrediting agencies vary in the ways they are organized and in their statements of scope and mission, all accrediting bodies that meet CHEA’s standards for recognition function to ensure that the institutions or programs they accredit have met generally accepted minimum standards for accreditation.

Accreditation affords reason for confidence in an institution’s or a program’s purposes, in the appropriateness of its resources and plans for carrying out these purposes, and in its effectiveness in accomplishing its goals, insofar as these things can be judged. Accreditation speaks to the probability, but does not guarantee, that students have met applicable standards of educational accomplishment.

Criteria for Transfer Decisions

Policy and practice for the evaluation and award of transfer credit emanate from an institution’s decision that a student applicant is qualified to successfully engage the receiving institution’s curriculum and benefit from its educational purposes and programs.

  1. Comparability and Applicability: Comparability of the nature, content, quality, and level of transfer credit, and the appropriateness and applicability of the credit earned, to programs offered by the receiving institution are as important in the evaluation process as the accreditation status of the institution at which the transfer credit was awarded. Since accreditation does not address these questions, this information must be obtained from catalogs, course syllabi, and other materials, and from direct contact between knowledgeable, experienced faculty and staff at both the receiving and sending institutions.
  2. Balance in the Use of Accreditation Status in Transfer Decisions: Institutions of postsecondary education that are not accredited by CHEA-recognized accrediting bodies may lack that status for reasons unrelated to questions of academic quality. Such unaccredited institutions, however, cannot provide a reliable, third-party assurance that they meet or exceed minimum standards. It is therefore incumbent on the receiving institution to take special steps to validate credits that have been previously earned at unaccredited programs or institutions. Acceptance of transfer credit should not be made solely on the accreditation status of an institution. This is just one of the factors to be considered in evaluation of transfer credit. After review of the student transcript and any related documentation, if feasible, the receiving institution, upon request, may provide reasonable explanation to student applicants about why work is or is not accepted for credit.
  3. Consistency: Policies and practices that inform transfer decisions are to be applied consistently. This principle becomes even more important in the context of two national trends; that of changing student attendance patterns reflecting higher incidence of transfer rates, and emerging new providers of higher education, with attendant new sources of credits and experience to be evaluated.
  4. Accountability for Effective Public Communication: Full and accurate disclosure of transfer policies and practices is important in ensuring the public that the transfer process is built on a strong commitment to fairness and effectiveness.
  5.  Commitment to Address Innovation: Institutions need to be flexible and open in considering alternative approaches to managing transfer when these approaches will benefit students. Distance learning and other applications of technology generate alternative approaches to many functions of colleges and universities, including transfer policy and practice.
  6. Applicability of Credit for Degree Purposes: At some institutions, there may be differences between the acceptance of credit for admission purposes and the applicability of credit for degree purposes. A receiving institution may accept previous work, place credit value on it, and enter it on the transcript. However, that previous work, because of its nature and not its inherent quality, may be determined to have no applicability to a specific degree to be pursued by the student at the receiving institution. Institutions have a responsibility to make this distinction, and its implications, clear to students before they decide to enroll. This should be a matter of full disclosure, with the best interests of the student in mind. Institutions also should make every reasonable effort to reduce the gap between credits accepted and credits applied toward an educational credential.
  7. Evaluation of Credit from Foreign Institutions: In most cases, foreign institutions are chartered and authorized by their national governments, usually through a ministry of education. Although this  provides for standardization within a country, it does not produce useful information about comparability from one country to another. No other nation has a system comparable to voluntary accreditation. The Division of Higher Education of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is engaged in a project to develop international compacts for the acceptance of educational credentials. At the operational level, four organizations—the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE), the National Council on the Evaluation of Foreign Student Credentials (CEC), NAFSA: Association of International Educators, and the National Liaison Committee on Foreign Student Admissions (NLC)—often can assist institutions by providing general guidelines for admission and placement of foreign students. Equivalency or placement recommendations are to be evaluated in terms of the programs and policies of the individual receiving institution.
  8. Validation of Extra-Institutional and Experiential Learning: Transfer of credit policies should encompass educational accomplishment attained in extra-institutional settings as well as at accredited postsecondary institutions. In deciding upon the award of credit for extra-institutional learning, institutions may find the services of the American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service helpful. One of the service’s functions is to operate and foster programs to determine credit equivalencies for various modes of extra-institutional learning. The service maintains evaluation programs for formally structured courses offered by the military, and civilian non-collegiate sponsors such as business, corporations, government agencies, and labor unions. Evaluation services are also available for examination programs for occupations with validated job proficiency evaluation systems, and for correspondence courses offered by schools accredited by the National Home Study Council. The results are published in a guide series. Another resource is the General Education Development (GED) Testing Program, which provides a means for assessing high school equivalency. For learning that has not been validated through the ACE formal credit recommendation process or through credit-by-examination programs, institutions may wish to explore the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) procedures and processes. Pertinent CAEL publications designed for this purpose are available.

Use of This Statement

This policy draws upon two advisory statements issued by CHEA, which are available on its website at www.chea.org, and were approved by each of the regional accrediting Commissions, the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, the American Council on Education/Commission on Educational Credit, and the Council on Post-secondary Accreditation. Institutions are encouraged to use this Statement as a basis for discussions in developing or reviewing institutional policies with regard to transfer.

Revised and adopted by the Commission, 11/06/2009