Western puzzling through credit transfer complexities

By Adela Talbot
January 30, 2014

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While Western isn’t partaking in the province’s latest initiative to help students transfer credits within Ontario’s postsecondary system, the reasoning is far more nuanced than some may think, said John Doerksen, Western’s vice-provost (academic programs and students).

“It is a more complex issue that isn’t always understood – certainly not externally, outside the university communities,” Doerksen said.

Western is not taking part in the province’s ONTransfer.ca initiative, launched earlier this month. The website allows postsecondary students to narrow down Ontario institutions which will honour previously acquired credits.

“We (Western) are members of the Ontario Council on Articulation and Transfer (ONCAT), as are all the colleges and universities in Ontario. We participate in a number of the initiatives of ONCAT; that’s important for the broader community to understand,” Doerksen explained.

“This (ONTransfer.ca) is one particular initiative of ONCAT moving forward, which we haven’t proceeded with at this time, and there are a couple key considerations,” he continued.

Doerksen noted aside from ONCAT, Western is part of the Ontario University Credit Transfer Consortium – comprised of seven universities (Western, McMaster University, University of Guelph, University of Ottawa, University of Toronto, University of Waterloo and Queen’s University) who came together to make it easier for students to receive credit for completed courses.

“The work we’ve done benefits probably 70 per cent of students who transfer among our institutions,” Doerksen said, noting most transfers to and from Western happen within this group of institutions.

“There are two parts to the transfer credit question. This is the nuance sometimes lost – courses can be given a transfer credit and can be counted for one of the 20 courses required, or it can be transferred for specific transfer credit. That latter category is the one the consortium has been working on most directly,” he continued.

The difference between general and specific transfers is a general transfer credit counts as an elective, whereas a specific transfer credit takes the place of a prerequisite in a given module, Doerksen explained.

“So, what it comes down to, is, does this Psychology 101 from ‘University X’ meet the requirements to move to Psych 202 at Western?”

The decision isn’t made centrally, he noted, adding once a student asks for a credit transfer, specific departments are consulted to make sure the previous course covered the material needed to proceed and succeed in studies at Western.

“What lies behind this, it’s the critical thing that underscores it all – we want students who transfer to be able to succeed,” Doerksen said.

“It’s not that you didn’t have a good learning experience in your first year (elsewhere) but maybe you didn’t have an opportunity, as a student, to review those foundational questions that will be needed in 202 at Western, where we assume you have this knowledge. That puts your success at some risk,” he explained.

“What the consortium has done is we’ve been able to puzzle through these questions to some agreement on metric of about 30 courses. But the students who come to us that are not part of the consortium are not disadvantaged in any way.”

Doerksen explained students who apply to transfer outside the consortium just have their courses vetted by departments, instead of being able to look at a rubric and immediately see which of their courses are transferable, and which are not.

“It would be great to have a structure where you could do everything up front, but at the same time it becomes quite a bit more challenging and daunting, the more universities and courses you add to the list.”


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