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For more information about the Passport Initiative, visit WICHE.ï
Director of Academic Leadership Initiatives at the Western Interstate Commission of Higher Education
Registrar at Utah State University
Monday, March 31, 2014
8:00 AM - 9:15 AM
The Passport Initiative is all about making transfer easier, at least in participating schools. What factors played into the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) helping to develop this initiative?
Shea: Two organizations based at WICHE really spearheaded this– the Western Alliance of Community College Academic Leaders and the Western Academic Leadership Forum. The Alliance members are the chief academic officers of the two-year institutions in the western region (which has 15 states starting with the Dakotas and moving west to Alaska and Hawaii as well as one of the U.S. territories.). The Forum members are the provosts and chief academic officers of the related systems for the four-year institutions in these western states.
In the Alliance, the members were talking about some of the difficulty their students were having when they transferred. They complained about having to repeat learning that they had already achieved and the frustration that was causing them - the additional time and money for students to try and complete their degrees. So the Alliance Executive Committee asked the question: couldn’t there be a friction-free zone for transfer from one institution to another based on learning outcomes rather than courses and credits?
Another factor for the creation of the Passport Project was that students are becoming increasingly mobile. Studies that the National Student Clearinghouse has done show that about 33% of students transfer, and of that 33%, 27% cross state lines. It was a much higher percentage of students crossing those borders than anyone initially understood. Now states have done a lot of work towards making their transfer process more seamless within the state, but there hasn’t been much real work done to facilitate transfer to institutions in other states.
How did you set-up the framework for the Passport Initiative? How was it implemented at the pilot schools?
Squire: I think there are two parts to that. One is the academic folks deciding what should be in the Passport Block, and the second was how to record it? How will we show it on the transcript? At my institution, we worked out some options for the way that would be done, and that was my main focus. The real heavy lifting was more on deciding what should be included in the Passport Block.
Shea: We based our work on the Association of American Colleges and Universities LEAP Essential Learning Outcomes for general education. For this first phase of the work, we focused on three content areas: oral communication, written communication, and quantitative literacy. We pulled together faculty with expertise in those areas from the five participating states for a face-to-face meeting where they discussed what the learning outcomes should be in those particular areas, and what the proficiency criteria should be for transfer. So over a period of months they worked that out, and then we approached the institutions and presented them with this developed set of Passport Learning Outcomes(PLOs) and Transfer-Level Proficiency Criteria for these three areas. Basically, the end result of Phase I of the Passport was that each participating institution signed an agreement that their learning outcomes are congruent, that they have identified courses which address those learning outcomes, and have identified assessments they use to determine that students are proficient at the transfer level.
Squire: The ultimate measure will be at what point we can look at students that transfer and see how many credits they took to complete their degree. The Passport should help because students don’t have to repeat courses. We aren’t going to see that for several years, so for now we are looking at the grades for two terms after students transfer to the participating institutions. We’ll be looking at it in a summary, not individually, with the data disaggregated between students that transferred in with and without a passport. The idea there is that the PLOs in the three content areas developed by the participating faculty which Pat described really lay a foundation for what follows in university work. We should see that students with the Passport are doing as well or better than the students that don’t have one, and who may have to retake courses at the receiving intuition.
The Phase I schools located in four states (Hawaii, North Dakota, Oregon, and Utah) are just a subset of those in the WICHE region right now –– we will certainly have students transferring in from other places that are not part of the Passport. So we will look at grades in the interim, but the long term would be looking at how long it takes students to graduate.
The way the Passport is set up, it certainly looks like time-to-graduation would be much faster with wider implementation.
Squire: Maybe, but I don’t think looking at the dates is as useful as looking at the number of credits it takes students to graduate.
Shea: For now, we will be tracking those students for two terms after they transfer just to see how their academic progress is. The receiving institution will send that data to the Passport’s Central Data Repository (CDR) which is being hosted by Utah State. The CDR will sort that data and send a report to the sending institutions so they can see how well their students performed at various institutions. And of course, both receiving and sending institutions can use that information in continuous improvement efforts.
The first Passports were awarded at the end of the Fall 2013 semester, correct?
Yes, it is officially underway!
Do you envision this initiative expanding outside of the WICHE region, in its current or slightly altered format?
Shea: We plan to roll the Passport out in phases, the first of which we are in now, with the 3 content areas. Phase 2 will include six additional ones, so ultimately we will have all of the lower division general education in this block transfer program. We are getting a lot of interest from states outside the WICHE region and some from the provinces in Canada because they see this project as a way to get away, in some areas, from course-by-course articulation, and as a way to bridge from the credit hour system to a competency-based system. Once we complete all the lower division GE in Phase 2, we’ll be ready to roll out beyond the WICHE region. But the registrars are a critical component in making all of this work.
What would you like attendees to walk away with from this session?
Squire: In the short term, it is key to get this information out because the participating institutions are going to be changing in complex ways over time. We want registrars to know that they may see a comment or a course on the transcript related to the Passport – it would be great if they knew what that notation meant so they could either ignore it, and do the normal articulation, or take it into account in the transfer process. But at least they would know about the Passport, which would make the whole transfer process more seamless.