Spoon River College and the University of Illinois System hosted the third Illinois Transfer Symposium for community college academic advisors, K-12 guidance counselors and others on May 6 at the Canton Campus.
“The goal was to come together to talk about issues and solutions to help students of our region transfer more efficiently and effectively to four-year universities after completing an associate degree,” said Holly Norton, Dean of Transfer Education at Spoon River College.
Many students do their first two years of higher education at a community college, where they take the same required general education courses that they would take in the first two years at a four-year institution. It’s a smart move financially as tuition is less and reduces the need for student loans, and also allows students to become comfortable with the higher education experience in a smaller setting.
“Typically, once a student completes those required general education courses at a community college, they will be accepted by the university they are transferring to,” said Norton.
But not always. Depending on the university and the student’s major, some institutions may not accept all the class credits on the grounds that they’re not comparable to theirs, resulting in students re-taking classes upon transfer and costing them time and money.
To help prevent that, Norton said that Spoon River College is one of the more than 100 participating colleges and universities who are part of the Illinois Articulation Initiative’s statewide transfer agreement. “This means that member institutions agree to accept a “package” of IAI general education courses in place of their own comparable lower-division general education requirements, which is why we encourage transfer students to earn an associate degree. Another option is to complete the IAI General Education Core Curriculum before transferring.”
According to the Illinois Board of Education, Illinois not only leads the nation in bachelor degree completion rates (53.8%) among community college students who transfer to four-year colleges, it has also exceeded the national average of 42.2%.
Included in the day’s schedule of speakers was a panel of recent Spoon River College graduates—Faith Haley, Anna O’Brien, Tessa Sargeant, and Erbin Zejnuloski —who answered questions from attendees and shared their own transfer experiences.
All four said that whether or not their classes would transfer had been a concern (they all did), and agreed that working with their advisors—at Spoon River College and their intended transfer university—was key to a smooth transition.
“Advisors are your biggest resource, but there are others. Find the resources and then use them, like the TRIO program,” said Zejnuloski. He earned an Associate in Arts in 2020 before transferring to Western Illinois University to major in marketing, and in May graduated with his bachelor’s degree.
O’Brien’s career goal is to be an immigration lawyer— “I love to argue and to help people, so it seemed perfect!”—and her transfer goal was to experience a bigger university in a large city that offered a variety of social activities. She had several colleges in mind and their acceptance of her credits was an absolute must for her. This fall, she’ll start as a junior at the University of Missouri St. Louis, where all the credits from her Associate in Arts degree were accepted.
One of the questions university representatives had for the panel was how they determined where they wanted to start college and where they wanted to transfer to. Tessa Sargeant said “the pandemic, price, and a flexible schedule that allowed me to work” landed her at Spoon River College, and a tour of Western Illinois University determined her transfer choice. She graduated in May with an Associate of Arts and will be majoring in Agriculture Education at WIU.
Faith Haley, who graduated with an Associate in Arts in 2021, also said it was a campus tour that sold her on Illinois State University, where she is majoring in elementary education and also earning a reading endorsement. Haley said she worked and saved money the two years she was at SRC so she could do her first year at ISU without worrying about working and told attendees “Sometimes we need more help than we let on when it comes to transitioning to a four-year university.”
Throughout the day Spoon River College representatives were able to network with institutions that SRC students are most likely transferring to. “These connections to enhance and expand our partnerships with not only our university partners but also with regional community colleges and our high school districts are vital to transfer programs,” Norton said.
Institutions represented at the Transfer Symposium were Spoon River College, Carl Sandburg College, Lincoln Land Community College, Illinois Central College, Admissions staff from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois Chicago, University of Illinois Springfield, Illinois State University, Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville and Western Illinois University, as well as high school guidance counselors from within the Spoon River College District.