AN ADMINISTRATION CLAIM that this year’s freshman class is the largest in years may merely reflect the school’s new method of defining who is a freshman and who is a transfer student.
What amounts to a semantic change in calculation may also account for the dramatic 25 percent decrease in transfer enrollment, a figure released by the Office of Institutional Effectiveness.
Keri Walters, assistant dean for faculty advising for the School of Fine & Performing Arts and special assistant to the provost for the transfer initiative, said the numbers in the Sept. 10 enrollment report reflect a new policy that recategorizes who is considered a transfer student and who is considered a freshman.
Previously, students who came to the college with at least one credit, such as those with advanced placement credit or dual enrollment credit from high school, were considered transfer students. According to Walters, students with fewer than 14 credits will now be considered “freshmen with credits” while those with 15 or more credits will be considered transfer students.
Mark Kelly, vice president of Student Affairs, said the shift simply updates how the college counts first-time students.
“The college was miscounting some of its students who were freshman students,” Kelly said. “They were bringing in AP courses and [dual enrollment credit] but they should have been counted as students with credit as freshmen.”
Kelly said he estimated the shift in classification applies to approximately 100 students but the number of students considered freshmen with credit may change because transcripts are being continuously evaluated. Although The Chronicle asked Kelly, Walters and Royal Dawson, vice president of Institutional Effectiveness, no one could provide exact figures for how many students’ statuses were affected by the shift. Dawson did not return calls all week.
The dramatic drop in transfer students is lessened when the numbers are adjusted to accommodate the new requirements; however, the adjusted numbers also indicate that the incoming freshman class may not necessarily be bigger or more academically qualified than in previous years, as claimed by administrators.
“We’ve had a significant increase in the academic preparation of our freshman class,” Kelly said in an interview Sept. 11.
When enrollment numbers were first reported, administrators were optimistic about the promising freshman class, as reported Sept. 16 by The Chronicle. But using Kelly’s approximation that the definition shift affected around 100 students, this year’s freshman class would be the smallest since 2004. If Kelly’s approximation is correct, the freshman class would shift from 2,178 to 2,078, a 4.6 percent drop.
“The [freshman class size] would approximately be the same this year [as last year],” Kelly said. “What we’re doing now is counting our freshmen accurately.”
The redefined freshman class’ highly-touted academic qualifications would also be affected by the ount for their increased academic merit, not selectivity.
Kelly said the policy shift has nothing to do with academics and is only the college changing its policies to reflect how other institutions count freshman students.
If the displaced 100 students approximated by Kelly are added back into the pool of new transfer students, there would be 788 new transfer students instead of 688. That would make the drop in transfer students from fall 2012 to fall 2013 15 percent instead of 25—still a decrease, but a less dramatic one.
Walters said she did not expect to see an increase in the transfer student population this year but remains hopeful that the college will see an increase next year.
“We didn’t expect [the] transfer population to go up this year just because we started the transfer initiative last year,” Walters said. “It’s not enough time yet for the work we did last year to yield more students.”
Kelly said the college is dedicating resources to attract transfer students to the college and make their college transition easier. He said there are two newly created positions in the Admissions Department that will be dedicated to transfer recruitment.
According to Walters, the college will continue its transfer initiative this year, by updating its transfer guides and partnerships to attract more transfer students.
“We’re going to make the initiative we [developed] last year part of our [college’s] permanent infrastructure,” Walters said. “The initiative doesn’t have to be a special [project] every year but we are bringing it into the college as part of our regular culture.”
The transfer initiative has four goals for the college, which include becoming more transfer-friendly, attracting more transfer students, helping inform potential transfer students of their options and building partnerships, according to Walters.
Last year, as part of the initiative, the college started using U.Select, a website that allows transfer students to view course equivalencies from their college. According to Walters, the college has continued to update its U.Select database and will endeavor to ensure the information is accurate.
Previously, the college evaluated transfer equivalencies on a case-by-case basis, but this year they developed a new system that gives departments the option of listing courses from an outside college as being equivalent to a Columbia course, according to Walters.
Louise Love, interim provost and vice president of Academic Affairs, said she is pleased with the work that has come from the transfer initiative and the new system of classifying students is more accurate.
Love said transfer enrollment has been declining for years but added that transfer students are extremely valuable to the college.
“[The college] really values transfer students that come in with some experience already, that come above the freshman level,” Love said.
“They have a higher graduation rate and they are people who have experience and are more likely to persist [to graduation].”
Love said the biggest hurdle transfer students face is whether previously obtained credit will transfer, how quickly they can complete a degree and how to do that in the most effective way.
The college is addressing these problems through the initiative’s plan to create articulation agreements with other colleges, Love said.
Articulation agreements are contracts between colleges that guarantee that one college’s classes will count toward degree requirements at another college.
Sherry Anton, associate director of recruitment, works to help attract more transfer students to the college through meeting with community colleges and their transfer coordinators.
According to Anton, the idea behind the creation of articulation agreements is that both schools can benefit from the agreement by helping students prepare for transferring. Anton said the college will pursue agreements with both two-year and four-year colleges, and will also seek partnerships with other institutions in addition to the Chicagoland colleges from which most students transfer.