Articulation for Non-experts: Understanding the Processes and the Jargon

Copper Mountain College, Transfer and Articulation Committee
Long Beach City College, Exec Committee

We have articulation experts among us. They speak in a code that leaves us bewildered but certain that all is well because they come across as so knowing and so confident. “I don't have time to figure out what was just said,” we may think. “I have papers to grade and office hours to hold. I am an expert in my field and our articulation officer is an expert in his.”

Some of us make attempts to demystify articulation jargon. As “non-articulation” members of the Academic Senate Transfer and Articulation Committee, we have found that an effort to understand the language and processes in this area can yield substantial benefits. A few definitions and explanations can save time, empower the use of at-your-fingertips articulation tools for program review, effect participation in intersegmental coordination efforts, and aid communication with any articulation officer.

Here to ASSIST you!

A look around in the ASSIST website can be extremely beneficial. ASSIST displays reports of how course credits earned at a California community college (CCC) are applied when transferred to a California State University (CSU) or University of California (UC) campus. This website has information on our colleges’ UC transferable course agreements; the CSU baccalaureate course list; the Intersegmental General Education Transfer Curriculum (IGETC) course list; the CSU General Education pattern course list; CSU US history, constitution, and American ideals courses; UC transfer admission eligibility courses; campus-specific general education courses; lower division major preparation agreements; and course-to-course articulation. We know what you are thinking: “They’re getting into that articulation speak again…” Hold tight and keep this web address close to you:

Articulation of our Courses

Articulation of our courses to California’s universities begins with curricular review. To make a course transferable to a CSU, it must be designated as baccalaureate level. Many curriculum committees “designate a course as transferable.” A more appropriate statement may be “designate as baccalaureate level” because this phrase better encompasses the extent of the CCC curriculum committee authority in transfer. Our community colleges are authorized by CSU Executive Order 167 (1973) to designate a course as transferable to a CSU; however, the designation only establishes that a course be accepted as CSU transferable, not as fulfillment of any specific requirement. For the UC system, community colleges do not make such designations; rather, our articulation officers submit the course to the UC system for review and possible acceptance for UC transferability.

If community colleges want a course to fulfill a specific purpose at either CSU or UC, it must be articulated as part of a general education pattern or to satisfy a requirement of a student’s major.

General Education

A common transfer purpose for many courses is to fulfill a general education requirement. Students are not required to complete a general education pattern to be accepted at a CSU or UC, but doing so saves most students time and helps them to avoid taking extra units. The most broadly applicable general education pattern is IGETC. If a student completes this pattern, he or she meets the lower division general education requirement for any CSU or UC. The IGETC pattern benefits many students but comes with a warning for students pursuing high unit majors. These students are advised to concentrate on completing the prerequisites for the major, as certain departments, schools, or colleges within a university consider the applicant’s completion of their major preparation in the selection process.

As an alternative to IGETC, students who are focused specifically on transfer to the CSU system can also follow the CSU General Education Breadth pattern. A student completing this pattern meets the lower division general education requirements for any CSU campus. Once again, completion of the CSU Breadth pattern is not a requirement for transfer but offers significant benefits to students in terms of time, efficiency, and costs.

When faculty develop new courses, they may wish to consult with their articulation officer to ensure that the class is likely to be accepted for addition to IGETC and/or CSU Breadth. Such a practice can help increase the probability of strong enrollments, as courses that fulfill specific transfer requirements will have greater benefits for students and will therefore be more popular.

Major Preparation

With the ongoing implementation of the transfer degrees authorized under SB1440 (Padilla, 2010) and Education Code §66746, practices regarding major preparation articulation agreements may change in some cases. In the standard practice for establishing major preparation articulation, community college articulation officers ask the four-year institutions to accept the courses we teach as meeting lower division requirements for a specific major. If courses are rejected, CCC faculty may choose to make adjustments to the course outlines and resubmit. In other words, the final decision regarding which courses are accepted for major preparation lies solely in the hands of the university system. This practice remains the process for establishing major preparation for the UC system, private institutions, out-of-state colleges and universities and for CSU transfer students who do not complete the transfer degrees established under SB 1440.

However, major preparation for SB1440 degrees will work differently. This bill empowers community colleges to develop associate degrees consisting of 60 transferable semester or 90 transferable quarter units, a minimum of 18 semester units of 27 quarter units in a major or area of emphasis, and completion of either the IGETC or CSU GE-Breadth general education patterns. If these requirements are met, the CSU system is obligated to accept students completing these degrees into a major similar to the focus of the associate degree. Thus, the previous practice for establishing course-by-course articulation for major preparation will be unnecessary, and the final decision regarding major preparation for these degrees will rest in the hands of the community college faculty. The Academic Senate for California Community Colleges is working in cooperation with the CSU Academic Senate to establish Transfer Model Curricula (TMCs) for SB 1440 transfer degrees. These TMCs will generally be constructed broadly enough to allow local colleges to adapt them to their own needs, and colleges that do so will be able to create degrees that allow students to transfer to any CSU in the major or similar major designated by the CSU of the degree without a need for course-to-course major articulation agreements.


In order to help colleges speak a common language regarding course articulation, the Academic Senate is developing common course descriptors in each discipline as a part of the C-ID project and in conjunction with the development of the TMCs.

Many faculty remember the CAN (California Articulation Number) system that was in place for a number of years. The CAN system involved a brief description of a specific course common to numerous colleges. Courses that were approved as matching the CAN descriptor were assigned a common number (such as CAN English 2 for freshman composition) that was listed after the local course number in college publications, thus establishing an indication of course comparability for articulation purposes. CAN was followed by the LDTP (Lower Division Transfer Pattern) project, a CSU-led attempt at developing common standards for transfer preparation. LDTP was not funded beyond 2009.

In 2007, the Course Identification Numbering System, C-ID, was initiated by the Academic Senate. C-ID establishes a supranumbering system similar to that which existed through CAN but in far greater detail than the brief descriptors that many saw as a significant limitation in the effectiveness of the CAN system.

To develop a course descriptor under C-ID, discipline faculty come together in statewide meetings to agree on essential course content and methods of evaluation. That content is then vetted more fully with discipline groups through the C-ID website and is finally developed into a descriptor similar to an abbreviated course outline. Local colleges can then submit their courses to be matched against this descriptor, and local courses which are judged by faculty representatives to match the descriptor are assigned the supranumber, which may then be published alongside the local course number to facilitate course equivalency and articulation decisions. Further information about C-ID can be found at

And anything else you seek...

As you dive into seemingly murky articulation waters, be sure to bring your tools, get your articulation officer on speed dial, and ask questions until you fully understand the answer. We are all very busy with our own teaching responsibilities and other obligations. In our system, acronyms are overly abundant and sometimes confusing. Yet all faculty can benefit from understanding the basics of articulation in order to more fully assist students, to more effectively design courses for transfer, to participate fully in ongoing statewide efforts such as the C-ID project and the development of TMCs, and to understand how our local curriculum relates to the outside world.