Continued education helped by new agreements

SDSU has become the first public university to revamp in South Dakota a series of agreements with the state’s technical institutes that will allow certain tech school graduates to transfer technical course credits to the university.

The agreements let students who have completed an associate’s degree program at a tech school to transfer many of their general education credits to SDSU in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree. For SDSU, the idea was to simplify articulation with in-state tech schools in order to make the process more transparent for students. 

That led to the elimination of many unused program-to-program agreements — a process the Board of Regents is encouraging the state’s five other public universities to undertake as well.

“It simplifies the process,” said BOR Vice President for Academic Affairs Sam Gingerich.

Articulation agreements allow for a fixed amount of credits to be applied to a degree at a public university without having to be further evaluated — which bypasses a lot of time-consuming course evaluation. The agreements also spell out for the transfer student what courses they will need to graduate with a four-year degree. 

“Whatever was completed is automatically recognized,” Gingerich said.

The BOR convened a meeting last August to discuss articulation agreements systemwide. The participants in the meeting, which included representatives from tech schools and public universities, determined that most of the existing agreements were very outdated and needed to be reviewed. SDSU, which generally sees the largest amount of non-medical tech school transfer students, was the first BOR university to finish updating its articulation agreements. 

“We’ve worked with the tech schools to deactivate programs,” Helling said.

According to Gingerich, those agreements provide a tech school’s graduates with an opportunity to advance their careers. He said that some tech school graduates find they need a bachelor’s degree to advance. 

“Better articulation agreements help tech schools better encourage students to continue their education,” said Lake Area Technical Institute President Deb Shepard.

The original agreements made between the Board of Regents and tech schools were more than 10 years old and included as many as 250 programs. But according to Gingerich, only about 20 students besides nursing and dental hygiene majors were using the agreements in any given year. 

After the meeting in August, SDSU began working with each of the state’s tech schools to review their articulation agreements. Helling said the idea was to eliminate agreements that weren’t being used and in the process try to increase the number of credits that could transfer in the agreements that were being used. 

Under the old agreements, as many as 50 technical course credits could be applied to a degree at SDSU as a block, but only if the student completed the Associate of Applied Sciences degree. General education courses could also transfer as individual credits. That hasn’t changed, Helling said, but there are now fewer program-to-program agreements to manage. 

“We just felt that we could be more responsive to students if we had a smaller set,” Helling said.