The Case for Reciprocity

Sierra College, Transfer and Articulation Committee

REC-I-PROC-I-TY (res-uh-pros-i-tee): noun. The relation or policy in [general education] dealings between [California community colleges] by which corresponding advantages or privileges are granted by each [college] to the [students] of the other. Of course, this definition is not precisely what one would find in a Merriam-Webster’s dictionary; it is, however, a policy being adopted by community colleges throughout California. Each local college or district determines for itself what reciprocity means, but the term generally connotes the intent to allow general education courses from other California community colleges to fulfill general education (GE) requirements at one’s own local college. Colleges that adopt a reciprocity policy honor the ways in which courses are used at other community colleges when certifying course work taken at the local institution; i.e. courses approved for a specific area at another institution will be honored for that area at the local college. During its Spring 2010 Plenary Session, the Academic Senate adopted Resolution 9.02, which encouraged colleges to honor GE courses from any California community college, including other local colleges within a district.

Title 5 §55063 outlines and defines the four general education subject areas that each college must include for the associate degree, and all California community colleges are required to use due diligence when developing and approving courses for GE. Though each college reserves the right to accept or deny courses approved for GE by other institutions, colleges may choose to adopt a reciprocity policy for various reasons. According to Kevin Bray, institutional researcher for Sierra College, “Students tend to view community colleges like library branches rather than discrete institutions.” Whether such a view provides a correct image of colleges or not, research done at Sierra indicates that Bray’s comment is descriptively accurate. In 2008, 1,678 students, 7.9% of all new students, told Sierra College that they had attended another community college. In 2009, 1,360 students, 6.4% of all new students, made the same statement. Additionally, 21,938 students attending Sierra College during the years 2001-07 showed an enrollment at another California community college as well.1 These statistics describe the situation at Sierra College alone; statewide numbers would clearly be much higher. The traffic among our colleges is tremendous, and failing to establish a reciprocity policy creates a roadblock between students and their academic goals. The adoption of a reciprocity policy eliminates this unnecessary barrier, eliminates the unnecessary repetition of classes and thereby reduces college costs, and affords students broader educational opportunities since not all colleges have the same offerings. The Academic Senate has repeatedly expressed concern regarding the cost of higher education for students, and calls to reduce unnecessary units and classes have become more frequent in the past year. Reciprocity agreements can help to address each of these issues. Reciprocity policies not only benefit students, but they also benefit colleges and their employees. Such policies reduce the amount of local workload created by the circulation of student petitions, while they also reduce the subjectivity by which courses taken at other institutions are granted local GE credit, subjectivity inherent in a diversity of counselor and classroom faculty judgments. Additionally, reciprocity policies inherently increase dialog across the California Community College System. According to Mary Moon, Counseling Coordinator at Sierra College, “Seeing what other colleges grant GE credit pushes us to examine, internally, what we do at Sierra College. If we have a course to which we do not give GE credit and another college does give that course GE credit, we can investigate the possibility of changing our local practice.” Of course, this sharing of practices between our distinct colleges will also serve to benefit students who view us, mistakenly or not, as library branches rather than discrete institutions.

As of February of 2010, 72 of the California community colleges have officially adopted reciprocity policies. Not surprisingly, these policies differ. For example, Sierra College has adopted a reciprocity policy that honors GE credit for courses taken at any other California public institution, whether community college, UC, or CSU. Some colleges only honor GE taken at other community colleges—indeed, adopted Academic Senate resolution 9.02 mentions only reciprocity among the California community colleges. Additionally, Region 4 colleges2 have adopted a reciprocity agreement among their regional institutions. Their agreement began with each institution examining the GE courses from the other Region 4 colleges, discussions at their local senates, and subsequent adoption of a reciprocity agreement at their local colleges. Now when one Region 4 institution places a course on its GE list, the other Region 4 colleges honor it at their local institutions for the area in which it was placed. For example, Jane Church, articulation officer at Chabot College, notes that “Region 4 students who have been accepted into Chabot's Nursing or Dental Hygiene program, who have completed their GE and proficiency requirements at another participating Region 4 college, have used the GE Reciprocity Agreement to satisfy Chabot's AA/GE and proficiency requirements.” Having initially discovered minor differences between their various GE lists, Region 4 colleges now trust their colleagues to exercise the due diligence required by Title 5. Region 4’s agreement benefits students by capturing the greatest amount of student traffic among their regional colleges. The Region 4 agreement, however, does not extend reciprocity to non-Region 4 colleges and will potentially miss some of the student traffic into the region.

Given that the adoption of reciprocity policies eliminates barriers for students at the same time that it cuts the costs of higher education and reduces the necessity of course repetition, many colleges have enthusiastically adopted such policies or initiated local discussions about them. Through the resolution process, the Academic Senate of California encourages colleges to honor GE courses from any of their sister colleges in the California Community College System.

1 These years were chosen because National Clearinghouse data was less robust in the 90’s and there has been a reporting lag in more recent years.

2 “Region 4,” as designated by CIAC, The California Intersegmental Articulation Council, is one of the Northern California regions.