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OUR OPINION: Minnesotans, take note: N.D. makes college transfers easy

Frustrated Minnesotans who can’t understand why their state colleges and universities won’t accept each others’ credits should look to the West.

For North Dakota’s system makes such transfers a matter of routine. The system is easy to understand and to use. It seems to work well and generates few complaints.

And if any North Dakotan ever fretted about a “cookie cutter” approach to education (to cite one of Minnesota’s concerns about standardization), we’ve not heard about it.

In short, there’s no excuse for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system to be as balky as it apparently is — especially today, some 29 years after Minnesota required various measures “to ease and encourage student transfer between state postsecondary institutions,” as one summary described the 1985 law.

Minnesota’s higher-ed officials should read the North Dakota University System’s policies, schedule a conference call with their counterparts in Bismarck — and then get the job done, at long last making it easy for students to transfer between institutions.

“Too often, (Minnesota) students say, they take classes at one campus only to find later that their new campus won’t grant them the academic credit they expected,” Minnesota Public Radio reported this week.

“A recent survey of students indicates about a quarter of transfer students rated their transfer experience as ‘poor’ or only ‘fair.’”

And that experience can be expensive as well as frustrating: The typical student who has trouble transferring “spends $2,000 to $6,000 in tuition to retake courses,” the associate director of the Minnesota State College Student Association estimated.

As mentioned, some in Minnesota worry that standardized credits means — well, standardized credits. They’re reluctant to see, say, Calculus 101 classes being taught the same way statewide because innovation and creativity could suffer.

But of course, the current free-for-all approach also results in suffering — namely, on the part of the students, who lose heavily in money and time.

In other words, there’s already a trade-off. And students are getting the worst of it.

Minnesota should switch instead to a system that offers real benefits to students, while imposing only minimal “costs” to innovation and the like.

One North Dakota initiative is called GERTA -- the General Education Requirements Transfer Agreement. GERTA is a systemwide plan that lets students complete their general-education requirements — typically, the first two years of a four-year degree — at any NDUS campus or North Dakota tribal college, and then transfer that program to another campus.

Also “common course numbers and titles are used to describe hundreds of courses” offered by the various campuses, the website continues.

And “articulation agreements” list the coursework and standards for certain majors, making it easy to move from, say, a political-science major on one campus to the same major at a different school.

“More than 1,600 articulation agreements exist within the university system, and more than 500 agreements have been arranged with out-of-state institutions,” the North Dakota University System reports.

So: Can it be done? You bet. In fact, North Dakota’s colleges and universities already are getting it done. The MnSCU system should start doing the same.