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When LSA junior Zoe Garden arrived on campus this semester as a transfer student, she had completed many beginner and upper-level courses in communications — including an entry-level communication studies course — at her previous school. Yet, because of the University of Michigan’s transfer requirements, she found herself enrolling in Communication Studies 101 this semester.
“I always say that I feel like a freshman here on campus, because I obviously don’t know the campus as well and stuff like that, but sometimes being in these classes with all these freshmen, you just kind of feel like you’re out of place,” Garden said. “You come here to Michigan for more opportunities, but I feel like I’m being set back more than pushed forward sometimes.”
Garden, who transferred to the University from Oakland University, a four-year college located in Auburn Hills, Mich., said introductory communication courses at the two schools were comparable — both were 100-level courses in the Communication & Media department covering similar subject matter. However, in order to declare the major, she had to take the University’s course.
As a result, Garden will graduate from the University a year later than she would have graduated from Oakland if she had stayed. Garden is one of many students who feel as if they have to backtrack to graduate with a degree from Michigan.
According to the University’s transfer page, courses taken at other institutions closely matching those offered at the University will be transferred as “equivalent credit,” meaning they will appear with the University course number listed on the student’s transcripts.
Credits from departments similar to those available at the University are listed as “departmental credit.” While these can be used to fulfill elective requirements, students need special permission from an adviser to use them for concentration or distribution requirements.
According to early numbers from 2019, the University had approximately 1,450 new transfer students enroll from an applicant pool of approximately 4,400. Nationally, about 25 percent of students who begin college at a four-year institution transfer to another at some point.
University alum Cecilia LaCroix, who graduated in May 2019, completed the International Baccalaureate program and Advanced Placement courses at her high school. Paired with two years of coursework at Central Michigan University, she had 86 total credits before transferring.
But when she enrolled at the University, she was only able to transfer 60 credits due to an LSA policy requiring at least half of the 120 credits needed to graduate be taken on campus.
Like Garden, LaCroix intended to major in Communication Studies, now renamed Communication & Media. She had taken Communication 101, Journalism 101 and Advertising 101 at Central Michigan, but she was still required to take the University’s Communication Studies 101 course to declare the major.
This was not the only time she ran into issues in the department, LaCroix said. Her coursework in advertising, communication and journalism completed at CMU would only be listed as departmental credit, meaning it could not satisfy requirements for her major.
LaCroix said she switched her major because of this. She said she felt she was relearning information she was already taught in her courses at CMU to the point that she stopped showing up to class.
“As a senior, I was sitting in classes with freshmen — first-time college students — and (the instructors are) like, ‘This is how you write an essay,’ and I was so checked out. I absolutely hated it,” LaCroix said. “I even thought about returning back to Central just because I was so bored. I found myself skipping a lot of classes and just phoning it in, because it was material I had already learned, and it was material I was paying for.”
Other students agreed there is variation among departments as to the likelihood of credits transferring. LSA junior Gustavo D’Mello, who transferred from Michigan State University after his freshman year, said many of his history courses counted as equivalent credits, but his Calculus I course — which was offered through MSU’s health sciences residential college Lyman Briggs College — did not.
Instead of repeating introductory calculus, D’Mello decided to take Calculus II in his first semester at the University so he could declare his Economics major. However, when he went to declare the major and register for classes for the following semester, he ran into trouble.The Office of the Registrar had accidentally not transferred D’Mello’s credits over from MSU, and he was listed as having completed zero credits (not including Calculus II and the other classes currently he was currently enrolled in at the University).
The University’s system for course registration assigns students a sign-up time and date depending on the number of credit hours they have completed, so the Office of the Registrar’s mistake meant D’Mello was registering behind everyone else, even though he was going into his second semester of sophomore year.
“I was alongside all the freshmen, even though I was a second semester sophomore, so I had really late dates for all my classes,” D’Mello said. “I was waitlisted for all my classes for a while. It was kind of a nightmare.”
Garden and LaCroix both said the alienating feelings they have experienced in the introductory-level courses stem from the classes being primarily composed of underclassmen. While Garden said she was able to find a community through the Transfer Connections learning community — which nearly 200 students participated in last year — she recognized others do not have this same opportunity, as it required a time investment from the student.
LaCroix said being in the introductory class, as opposed to a smaller upper-level course, made it more difficult to make friends and feel a sense of belonging at the University.
“The maturity level was off,” LaCroix said. “People were still talking about prom, and I was just trying to phone in my assignment.”
LSA junior Paige Dotson, who transferred from DePaul University, was told she had to take a first-year writing course at the University, even though she had already taken a comparable course at DePaul.Because she had taken journalism courses and collaborated on projects with the Chicago Sun-Times, she said she felt the course was unnecessary.
Dotson had completed a course that satisfied the upper-level writing requirement, but said she has yet to take the first-year course and believes she shouldn’t have to.
“As a 22-year-old who has been in college for a while, it doesn’t make me feel great that I have to take freshman classes,” Dotson said. “Having had that background, and then having to be told, ‘No, you need to take time, you need to take a four credit class’ for something that you already know how to do is a little aggravating, and I'm still trying to fight it because I don't see really the point of it. I would understand more if I had just been a student the whole time, and I had just been avoiding it, but that's not really the case. It's a matter of the University and their system of transferring.”
Additionally, Dotson has had to add an extra year to her studies because although she has completed her major and distribution requirements, she has not hit the 120-credit threshold to graduate.
Dotson said part of her credit number stems from how the University transferred her DePaul credits. Because DePaul operates on a quarter system and the University does not, her courses were not worth the same amount of credit hours as when she completed them at DePaul.
However, Dotson said she recognizes her situation is better than many other transfer students. Her introductory biology and chemistry classes, for example, transferred completely and she was not required to retake them.
While the transfer students generally agreed having to take similar introductory classes to ones they completed at their old schools was only a minor setback, some said it made them feel out of place at their new school.
Garden said that while it only took one semester for her to take the prerequisite communication studies courses, it felt like a step in the wrong direction.
“It is a little annoying just going from being in those (upper-level courses) and being in 101s again,” Garden said. “It’ll only really be this semester — next semester I’ll be in those classes — but it’s just a little bit like, ‘Oh, God, I’m so excited to come here for more opportunities,’ and here I am, back in a 101.”