Articulation Agreements

Between Educational Institutions

Joseph L. Miller

Florida State University
Articulation Agreements Between Educational Institutions

The President’s Commission for Higher Education in 1948 under the presidency of Harry S. Truman cited research findings that indicated that most Americans were capable of successfully completing fourteen years of study.  Americans could use fourteen years of study to make a smoother transition from school to the work place. To meet these needs, community colleges were formed. Community colleges could provide training for those individuals who needed training beyond high school, but not necessarily a four-year degree. Community colleges have grown in size, number, and range of programs offered.  Besides academic and vocational programs, community colleges also offer remediation, entertainment, adult education, liberal education and transfer preparation (Wechsler, 1989).

            Along with the growth of community colleges, educational needs have also changed since 1948.  A shift from an industrial-driven economy to a technical-driven economy in the United States has created a growing demand for a highly skilled workforce (The ABCs of Tech Prep, 1999).  According to a report published in 1992 by the Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS), employers are frustrated with the educational institutions’ “inability to produce graduates who know how to use information, think critically, solve problems, work cooperatively with other people on teams, and learn on their own—in short, to produce graduates who satisfy the demands of today’s workplace”.  Also, today’s public high schools focus on preparing the top twenty-five percent of the student population while the neglected majority has to fend for themselves.  To address the emerging issues in educating the work force, America has called for educational reform.  This reform has emerged in the form of tech prep (Hull & Grevelle, 1998).

Tech prep is designed to provide a seamless transition between high school, the two-year college, or the four-year university.  This transition for the students should also foster a smoother transition from school to work.  The education of the future work force is a major concern across the nation.  By the year 2000, about 65% of the jobs available will require some training beyond that received in high school, but only about 15%-20% will require a four-year degree or beyond (see Chart Example 1). A smooth transition, therefore, from secondary school to the post secondary school is vital (Hull & Grevelle, 1998).  As equally important is the transition from post secondary school to the work place (Hoerner & Wehrley, 1995; Laanan, 1995).

            Admission from one institution to another has been a problem for many students over the years.  Course credits from one institution are not always accepted by another.  This lack of transfer can occur at the two-year or the four-year institution (Wechsler, 1989).  In addition, over 80% of those students who enroll require remediation (Hull & Parnell, 1991).  Literature identifies numerous barriers to the transfer between educational institutions.  Several barriers include lack of articulation between institutions, inadequate student support systems, economic barriers, bureaucratic barriers, geographic barriers, age impediments, and racial and ethical concerns (Wechsler, 1989).  The focus of this paper is on articulation.



Purpose of Articulation

The overall purpose of articulation is to raise the academic achievement in mathematics, science, and communication skills (The ABCs of Tech Prep, 1999).  Articulation is also intended to provide a smooth transition of tech prep students between secondary and post secondary institutions (Hull & Grevelle, 1998; Mills, 1998).  The program is designed for all students with particular focus on targeting those students who have been traditionally neglected by rigorous programs of study. (Hull & Grevelle, 1998).  More specifically, articulation is a process for coordinating the linking of two or more educational systems within a community to help students make a smooth transition from one level of education to another without experiencing delays, duplications of courses, or loss of credit (Hull, 1992). Federal funding for just this one element of tech prep has risen from $63.4 million in 1991 to over $104 million in 1993 and the expenditures are increasing each year (Prager, 1994).



Forms of Articulation

Articulation agreements are arrangements among institutions to facilitate the smooth transition of tech prep students from one educational institution to another.  These arrangements eliminate duplication and guarantee enrollment at some institutions when administered properly. Articulation agreements are formed when two institutions agree that components of a course or a program of study are similar enough that one institution will accept the credit from the other institution.  According to Hull and Parnell (1992), articulation can exist either horizontally or vertically (see Chart Example 2). 

Horizontal articulation is an agreement of one institution to another of the same level (e.g. from one high school to another high school or from one community college to another community college).  Vertical articulation can exist between high school and community college, between high school and the university, or between the community college and the university (Hull and Parnell, 1991). According to Hull and Parnell (1992), many different configurations of vertical articulation exist. 

An institution may focus on the junior and senior year of high school and the two years of community college.  Some agreements between secondary schools and post secondary schools allow for up to one year of articulated study.  The focus of this structure of articulation is on shortening the length of time needed to complete a two-year program of study at the community college. 

Another focus in developing articulated studies is on the strength of the skills portrayed by the students.  By developing a program of study focusing on the freshman year of high school through the two years of community college, emphasis can be placed more on the depth of content instead of the length of time to complete the program.  This configuration is usually called the Tech Prep Associated Degree (TPAD). 

Articulation through tech prep is also proving valuable for students bound for higher educational degrees (Brown, 1998). Other articulation arrangements may include the studies in preparation for a bachelor’s degree or even at the master’s level.  Although these arrangements are not as common, the arrangements are possible. Regardless of the horizontal or vertical structure, the basic elements of articulation development are the same (Hull & Parnell, 1991).



Agreement Development

            Each school district represented by a tech prep consortium should have a formal articulation agreement among participating high schools, vocational-technical institutions, and post secondary institutions.  These formal agreements facilitate a smooth transition from one program or institution to. The Michigan Articulation Handbook published in 1998 gives the an extensive outline for developing and implementing articulation agreements.



Develop a Philosophy

The writers suggest that the first step is establishing a set of principles or an agreement philosophy.  Discussion for this activity can begin with the secondary school, the post secondary school, the faculty, the administration, or even the students. 


Align the Curriculum

            Participants must exchange detailed course content documentation, determine required competencies, assess content and achievement levels, agree on any necessary modifications to the curriculum, plan site visits between institutions as needed, and document the articulation in writing.


Refine the Proposed Programs

            A coordinator should be assigned to distribute the proposed program to all individuals involved in finalizing the content of the course.  Participants will be asked to provide input to the coordinator concerning the proposed course design.  The coordinator will then facilitate the necessary revisions before securing final approval for the agreement.


Approval Process

            The parties involved in the development of the agreement must establish a time frame with specific dates for the signing of the agreement.  The recommended articulation agreement should be shared with all appropriate personnel at both levels of educational institutions.  Complete involvement is imperative at this stage to ensure that all parties fully agree with the proposal.  Complete approval will aid in the support and success of the system.


Agreement Review

            Provisions should be made for periodic review of the articulation agreements.  This process should follow the same steps as in the initial development.  This stage should be quicker than the drafting of the agreement since only minor changes to the curriculum or course content are likely to have been made.  Student tracking and follow-up studies on the students that have waived articulated courses will prove valuable in this review as well.




One of the most critical steps in the implementation of articulation agreements is to have someone assigned as a clearinghouse for information.

Information to Students

            The high school counselors or college recruiters should inform students  concerning which courses are most beneficial to be included in his or her career plan.  Students must know and understand admissions requirements for the post secondary institution such as grade point average, articulated course grade, appropriate time of enrollment, transcripts, or special applications.  Students will usually be asked to provide transcripts early to avoid registration delays.


Marketing the Program

            Articulation coordinators must use all available resources to develop a marketing strategy that provides information to students, parents, and counselors.  All involved parties must be able to take full advantage of the opportunities provided by articulation.


Agreement Review

            Yearly meetings are recommended to review existing articulation agreements.  Plans can be discussed concerning changes to existing agreements or the development of new agreements.  Participants should (a) exchange detailed course content documentation; (b) compare course competencies and content; (c)  evaluate the course and achievement goals; (d) agree on any modifications to the course or agreement; (e) visit classrooms or labs as needed; and  (f) fully document any changes to the course content, competencies, or articulation agreement.



Granting Course Credit

            Credit for articulated courses can be awarded in many ways.  Regardless of the method, the student is granted credit at the receiving institution for course work completed at the previous institution. The credit can be taken at face value (automatic articulation) or one institution may require validation of content knowledge before credit is awarded (The Diverse Forms of Tech Prep, 1995). 


Automatic Credit

            Automatic credit assumes that the student has mastered the material based on the grades received in the articulated course at the previous institution.  Automatic credit is the most convenient method of articulation for both the institution and the student.  However, both institutions are taking the risk that not all material was mastered.


Credit by Validation

Validation of competency can take many forms.  Dothan school systems in Alabama state that if the student made an A in the course at the high school, the community college must grant credit.  If the student made a B, then a “challenge test” is given.  This challenge test may be written, oral, or performance-based.  If the student performs successfully on the test, credit is awarded (The Diverse Forms of Tech Prep, 1995). The validation exam should be given by the institution receiving the student as a transfer according to their requirements (Glendenning, 1999).  Other forms of validation exist as well.  Some schools only require a B average in the course or an 85 numerical grade.  Some colleges state that the student must enroll at the next institution with in a specific time period.  This time period may range from eighteen to twenty-four months. 


Credit in Escrow

Some institutions hold the credit in escrow until the student either successfully completes the next course of a sequence or has a successful first semester or quarter at the receiving institution.  This method is easier to administer than is validation through examination.  However, students can become frustrated and potentially drop out if the second course of the sequence is failed.  The student must then take the articulated course over and the second course of the sequence that was failed (Hershey, Silverberg, & Owens, 1995).




Benefits to Students

            Articulation activities prepare students for certificate or associate programs while addressing the needs of employers (The ABCs of Tech Prep, 1999).  Articulation is also good for small schools in rural areas where location prohibits post secondary options or dual enrollment (Hershey, Silverberg, & Owens, 1995).  Other student benefits include (a) the saving of money on tuition, fees, and books; (b) accelerating progress; (c) reducing duplication of instruction; (d) creating the opportunity for expanding program content; (e) improving job readiness skills;  (f) improving job placement potential; (g) earning college credit;  and (h) motivating the student to continue with schooling. 


Benefits to Educational Institutions

Educational institution benefits include (a) promoting curricular alignment, (b) facilitating communication between and among educational institutions, (c) facilitating communication between and among faculty and administrators, (d) reducing duplication of instruction, (e) expanding program content, (f) enhancing public relations, (g) increasing enrollment in articulated courses at the high school and college, (h) assisting with recruitment at all levels of education, and (i) promoting a more unified educational system (Michigan Articulation Handbook, 1998).



Barriers to Implementation

            Tech prep and articulation are ambitious projects.  Barriers to successful implementation are many.  Included in the long list are the (a) lack of coordinator’s time; (b) lack of or difficulty in locating funding; and (c) acceptance from the students, teachers, parents, and community. These barriers can be overcome, however.  Some important activities leading to successful implementation include (a) networking with appropriate leaders in the field, (b) using committee meeting time wisely, (c) actively marketing the program, (d) evaluating activities for success, ( e) staying in the news, (f) using funding wisely, (g) offering staff development units (SDU) for teacher participation when appropriate, (h) utilizing websites and listserves, (iI) working with businesses and industry,  and (j) setting goals and staying on task (The ABCs of Tech Prep, 1999).             With all the benefits to the student and to the educational institution, drawbacks still exist.  Some researchers and practitioners claim that articulation only shortens the program of study and does not allow the student to gain a deeper knowledge of the content (Bryant, 1992). Others still argue that articulation becomes the major focus of tech prep and prohibits real educational reform (DiCroce, 1989).  With or without articulation, deeper understanding will occur only with a change in teaching strategies or curriculum. Despite the few drawbacks, proponents still agree that articulation is necessary for improving curriculum, encouraging students to continue their education, and foster communication between educational institutions (Hull & Grevelle, 1998).



Figure 1


Figure 2

Figure Captions

Figure 1. This graph shows how the changes in the economy have impacted the skills needed by American workers.  In 1960, about 65% of the jobs available could be acquired with only a high school education.  Concurrently, only about 15% of the available jobs required training beyond a high school education.  That situation has totally reversed over the past forty years.  Individuals with only a high school education in the year 2000 may have a difficult time landing a job as about 65% of the jobs will require additional training.

Figure 2. This chart shows the various structures of articulation.  Horizontal articulation is the movement of a student from one educational institution to another of the same type or level.  Vertical articulation occurs when a student transfers or enrolls into a school or program of study at a higher level than the one he or she is leaving.  Within vertical articulation, the focus of the articulation can be to emphasize a time-shortened program of study or one in which deeper understanding and advanced skills are stressed.



Articulated Credit. Articulated credit is credit given for a course at a higher level institution for coursework completed at a lower level institution.


Credit in Escrow. Credit in escrow is the withholding of credit for an articulated course until the receiving institution is satisfied that the student has mastered the articulated course content.  Credit may be withheld until successful completion of the next course in the sequence or until the student has successfully completed the first semester or quarter of school.


PSO. PSO is an abbreviation for Post Secondary Options.  PSO is a program in which high school students may attend a college or technical school and receive high school credit as well as college credit for the courses taken.


Receiving Institution. The receiving institution is the institution to which the student is transferring.


SDU.  SDU is an abbreviation for Staff Development Unit.  SDU is credit given to educators for attending meetings, workshops, or special events.


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