- Associated Press - Saturday, April 18, 2015

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Minnesota’s largest state college system is working to make it cheaper and easier for community college students to transfer into four-year programs and to earn bachelor’s degrees.

The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system is seeking to simplify a process that can confuse and frustrate transfer students, forcing them to spend extra time and money retaking classes when they move within the 54-campus system to a MnSCU university.

“We want to create a system where it’s harder to make mistakes,” said Shirley Murray, who advises students at Minnesota State University Mankato.

Transferring between higher education institutions is becoming more common nationwide, and about one-third of the more than 430,000 MnSCU students are transfers, said Lynda Milne, the system’s associate vice chancellor for academic affairs.

Many students take their associate degrees to a four-year MnSCU school only to find not all of their credits count - even though both schools are part of the same state system. Unless a student plans meticulously from the beginning of their two-year program, that could mean spending hundreds or thousands of dollars retaking classes, said Kayley Schoonmaker, president of the student association for 2-year MnSCU schools.

Schoonmaker plans to transfer to Bemidji State University after she earns her two-year English degree. She was aware of the potential pitfalls, so she made sure to take classes that would count there.

“But I think that the average student doesn’t really take as much time and do as much research,” she said.

The new MnSCU plan would tell students up front which college courses would transfer to any four-year system school. By the start of the 2017 school year, administrators want it in place for four programs - theater, biology, psychology and one business degree. They plan to add 26 more programs by 2019. The move wouldn’t affect the University of Minnesota system, the state’s other higher education system.

Funding for the plan’s rollout is included in both the state House and Senate higher education budgets, though it’s not yet clear exactly how much money lawmakers will allot for it.

“I think anybody who’s been through higher ed at any level recognizes there’s issues with credit transfer at times,” said Rep. Josh Heintzeman, R-Nisswa. “That’s really what we’re trying to fix on this. I doubt it will be 100 percent successful, but it will probably have a good effect.”

Murray, whose case load fluctuates between 300 and 500 students in her university’s College of Allied Health and Nursing, thinks it will help some of them. She estimates about half of the students she works with don’t get a bachelor’s degree as efficiently as they could.

Those students don’t like to hear to hear they’ll have to spend extra money and time in school before entering their career of choice, Murray said. “It’s a scenario that is a no-win for anyone.”

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Follow Kia Farhang on Twitter at https://twitter.com/KiaFarhang

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