American Sociological Association

Task Force on the Articulation of Sociology
in Two-Year and Four-Year Sociology Programs

Rhonda Zingraff, Meredith College, Chair
William Camp, Luzerne County Community College
Gary Cretser, California State University at Pomona
Lyle Hallowell, SUNY Nassau Community College
Harriet Hartman, Rowan University
Penelope Herideen, Holyoke Community College
Tina Martinez, Blue Mountain Community College
Pamela Stone, Hunter College of CUNY
Carla Howery, ASA Deputy Executive Officer and Executive Office liaison
Catherine Berheide, Skidmore College and ASA Council Liaison

Final Report of the Task Force on the Articulation of
Sociology in Two-Year and Four-Year Sociology Programs

Executive Summary

The Task Force on Articulation conducted much of its collective work at the 1999, 2000, and 2001 ASA Annual Meetings. Although we initially thought that our task was fairly straightforward, we now realize that the whole articulation issue is a large and complex one that defies easy remedy. Moreover, with multiple “jurisdictions” over courses and course credit, it is unclear how to coordinate change, and ASA’s part in the change agenda. The problems associated with articulation are being addressed at many different levels, from individual institutions to state legislatures. Nonetheless, we believe that issue of articulation is critical to the future of our discipline and thus the American Sociological Association should take a role, alert and educate chairs and departments, monitor trends, make recommendations, collaborate with national organizations, and learn from faculty and students dealing with articulation issues.

More and more students are beginning college at one institution and finishing a degree at another, sometimes with a few institutions in between! While articulation is usually seen as a matter between 2 and 4-year colleges, more and more students are transferring from one 4-year institution to another; more are transferring across state lines and across public and private spheres; more are transferring with a time gap between the first and subsequent institution(s). The Task Force took into account these new forms of transferring, but primarily addressed the links between community colleges and 4-year institutions.

Currently almost half (44%) of all college students in the United States are enrolled in two-year institutions. Close to one-quarter of all BA students start their studies at two-year colleges, which increasingly meet other diverse educational needs as well, such as providing summer courses for four-year college and university students and career-enhancing courses for employed professionals. These colleges are less expensive and some students take a portion of courses there simply to save money. Community colleges, in other words, are becoming comprehensive institutions, and this has multiple implications for articulation agreements and for sociology generally.

Sociology’s stake in these institutions is significant. They represent educational opportunity for historically underrepresented groups, alone a worthy goal. Community college sociology programs introduce the discipline to large numbers of students destined for a wide variety of majors and careers. They also prepare students who pursue the sociology major at four-year colleges. Almost half of all sociology credit hours are taught in the community college. Clearly it is in our interest to strengthen two-year sociology curricula and to find ways to link two-year and four-year programs in ways that benefit students and enhance the discipline.

Nonetheless, numerous challenges have made the work of this task force especially difficult and frustrating. Despite their increasingly prominent position in higher education, community college faculty complain that they face persistently negative perceptions and are largely ignored when curricula are examined and reformed. Also, while four-year colleges often “raid” community colleges for early transfer students, they make transferring exceedingly difficult with unclear or arbitrary transfer policies and inflexible curricula that make students repeat courses, extend the time needed to graduate, and lose transfer credits. Community college faculty members are expected to offer a viable lower-division curriculum for the sociology major, but often in a vacuum. Some states have mandatory articulation and simply having the same course title and number insures transfer of credit within the state system. Yet without collaboration among sociology colleagues, such agreements have no professional oversight about content and quality (in either the 2- or 4-year institutions). Add to the mix the high reliance on adjunct and part-time faculty, and most departments find it hard to argue that they know what is taught, much less what is learned, in sociology courses.

Sociology programs at four-year institutions must deal with challenges as well. As they struggle to attract students and to offer a coherent major that achieves “study in depth”—with effective sequencing and core components recommended in Liberal Learning and the Sociology Major—articulation issues can be especially difficult. Transfer students may be unprepared for upper-division sociology courses. Specialized or vocationally-oriented sociology courses taken at two-year colleges may not fit at all neatly into the carefully structured four-year sociology curriculum or might be seen as undermining the rigor of that curriculum. Faculty members at four-year institutions, who are often uninformed about what is taught at community colleges, nonetheless are called on to make decisions about transfer credits, major requirements, equivalent courses, and so on.

Finally, the great majority of two-year colleges (980 of 1163) are public--hence articulation issues are also a matter of legislative policy and state budgeting decisions. Here the concerns center on maximizing accessibility, accountability, manageability, and quality while controlling costs.

Models and Current Initiatives

The large and multifaceted problem of articulation is being addressed at many levels by different organizations—not only colleges and universities themselves, but also states, national higher education organizations, and disciplinary associations such as the ASA. At the state level, three types of articulation agreements are found.

  1. The first is where states develop statewide core curricula to facilitate transfer of credits among all the state’s two-year and four-year institutions. This is the approach taken by 22 states.
  2. Another 13 states have articulation agreements that apply within particular segments of the higher education system but not across the entire state.
  3. Finally, 15 states have no statewide or segmental articulation agreements, although there often exist local agreement between two-year and four-year colleges in the state.

Higher educational organizations have also begun to tackle the articulation problem. One example is the “Greater Expectations for Student Transfer Project” of the Association of American Colleges and Universities ( Another is a recent agreement involving 80 urban community colleges and historically Black colleges and universities that is aimed at expediting the transfer of African-American students with associate degrees to four-year institutions.1

Perhaps the most important ASA initiative with implications for articulation is the revision of the document Liberal Learning and the Sociology Major. The current version of this document contributes much to our understanding of how to achieve depth, rigor, and coherence in the four-year sociology curriculum. However, the sort of curricular structure that it promotes nearly ignores the problems related to transferring—specifically, lack of consensus about how to define and distinguish “lower” and “upper” division sociology courses and determine course “equivalency;” ensuring that students get solid grounding in theory and methods, which (according to Liberal Learning) ought to be taken at the sophomore level; scheduling courses so that transfer students can complete the major in two years; and seeing to it that the major retains integrity while also accounting for diversity of students needs (e.g., the fact that the majority in most sociology programs are not graduate-school bound) and of institutional contexts. The current ASA Task Force on the Sociology Major is systematically and thoroughly addressing these issues as it works to revise the original Liberal Learning document, an effort that we enthusiastically support.


The report suggests actions for the ASA and for individual departments to consider. However, we deliberately avoid issuing what could be seen as explicit or official recommendations, mainly because of the jurisdictional complexity that is currently unfolding in higher education and in the discipline with regard to the articulation issue.

Actions for the ASA

The American Sociological Association could provide leadership toward accomplishing the following:

  • Supporting the Task Force on the AP Course in Sociology, as one way to clarify standards for the introductory course.
  • Identifying learning objectives for lower division sociology courses—especially the introductory course and social problems—that are relevant across institutional types and for diverse students;
  • Developing guidelines about how learning objectives and goals differ, or should differ, between upper and lower division courses;
  • Sponsoring workshops where faculty members from diverse institutions can work together to achieve standards and consistency in instruction, curricular structure, and so on;
  • Issuing guidelines regarding the minimum credentials required to teach sociology at the college level;
  • Directing efforts to acquire additional grants (such as the NSF Integrating Data Analysis grant) to pilot and support instructional improvements;
  • Including in the Liberal Learning document the possibility of multiple kinds of sociology curricula—majors and minors—tailored to different institutional and student characteristics.

Actions for Individual Departments

A few broad concerns shaped our thinking about change at the department level. First, and most important, there is no one ideal or model that is appropriate for all colleges and universities dealing with the issues related to articulation. Second, attention to the rigor of sociology courses is crucial. Third, current trends include some that exacerbate the articulation problem—including the trend toward offering what are traditionally seen as upper-division courses at the community college level. Last, barriers to faculty involvement in solving articulation-related problems exist—including heavy workloads that do not include this sort of work, and lack of faculty control in the face of legislative mandates and accreditation requirements. Nonetheless, we have outlined some steps that individual departments—primarily those at four-year schools—should consider taking to address articulation issues:

  1. Gather as much information as you can about your department’s situation with regard to transfer students and articulation issues. (How many sociology majors and students generally are transfer students? How many majors, transfer or not, declare the major late? How does that percentage compare with other programs at your institution? Does your institution participate in any articulation agreements? How do they affect sociology? From which institutions are your transfer students most likely to come? Could you meet with those faculty and talk about articulation?) This might require meeting with faculty from other institutions and departments, inviting the registrar to a department meeting, reviewing student records and enrollment patterns, and so on.
  2. Identify problems associated with articulation at your institution and in your department. This means talking with transfer students, academic advisors, and faculty members at your own and two-year institutions in your area about things such as difficulties encountered in transferring courses, credits and students’ preparedness for coursework, and how sociology compares with other programs in terms of transfer students’ experiences.
  3. Identify and implement remedies appropriate to your location in the articulation “landscape.” These might include:
  • orientation sessions for transfer students;
  • mentoring program for new transfer students, with special attention to “at-risk” students;
  • activities—sponsored by student-run organizations or the student affairs office—that bring new transfer students and continuing students together;
  • re-thinking curricular sequencing so as to include “compressed sequencing” that would make it easier for transfer students to complete core courses in a shorter period of time;
  • developing a means to assess learning of all rising juniors (transfer and continuing) and making changes based on what is learned—e.g., revising upper-level courses, developing a remedial course or workshop for selected students, working with faculty at two-year colleges to develop greater consistency in the content of lower-level sociology courses across institutions;
  • re-examining the entire sociology curriculum with a collective eye to pedagogies, sequencing, learning objectives, substantive content, requirements, and so on—how and if they can be changed better to meet the needs of the students in your classes;
  • appointing an “articulation guru” in your department whose job it is to oversee the process of gathering data, identifying problems, and implementing remedies.

I. Introduction

The February 1999 issue of Footnotes published the following statement of purpose for the Task Force on the Articulation of Sociology in Two-Year and Four-Year Sociology Programs:

The purpose of this Task Force is to examine sociology programs in community colleges in light of current guidelines for sociology in the undergraduate curriculum and to develop curriculum guidelines that would be useful for community college programs as well as for linking two-year and four-year programs. Community colleges are the most rapidly expanding part of higher education with national policy pressing for associate arts (AA) rather than high school diplomas as the minimal degree. Students pursuing such degrees frequently intend to transfer to 4-year programs. Models and guidelines can enhance sociology in two-year institutions and facilitate the continued study of sociology in four-year institutions. This Task Force would be comprised of eight members, four from community colleges and four from BA granting colleges or universities.

The Task Force held planning sessions at the Annual Meetings in Chicago (1999), Washington, D.C. (2000), and Anaheim (2001) to gather, share and analyze information perti-nent to this charge. While on the surface it would appear that the development of curriculum guidelines is a fairly straightforward task, requiring little more than an investig-ation of prevailing practices and identification of the best solutions to articulation dilemmas. However, the realities confronted by this Task Force have been both troubling in their complexity and frustrating in their implications for the reputation of sociology.

Focusing on the articulation issue brings to light an assortment of ways in which the undisciplined nature of our discipline is indeed problematic, with consequences reaching from individual faculty careers to the destiny of departments in higher education. Individual students, seeking to find their way from point to point on the confusing terrain of degree requirements, face obstacles contrary to their interests, or ours. The seemingly manageable task of addressing two-year and four-year sociology programs with advice that assures more seamless and satisfactory study of undergraduate sociology turns out to be quandary for which remedies are elusive.

The Task Force has been perplexed over where we have a voice in the very wide and complex landscape of articulation issues. We straddle an authority chasm, aiming to clarify for the discipline issues that are ultimately addressed by institutions, educational systems, accrediting agencies, or governing bodies of policy organizations. The noteworthy accomplishments we identify have not been discipline-driven and future solutions, similarly, will require action from organizations more powerful than any learned society such as the ASA. On the other hand, we recognize risks pertaining to the coherence of the undergraduate sociology major, to the professional growth of sociology faculty, and to the degree to which sociology holds a respected position in academe: each of these may be addressed by the direct influence of the ASA.

This report suggests some actions for ASA to consider, and some for administrators of academic departments, all derived from a critical assessment of articulation agreements around the country and a shared commitment to the enhancement of undergraduate education in sociology. What the report does not contain, significantly, is a set of explicit recommendations for possible adoption and circulation as official guidelines or instructional materials. While the members of the Task Force aspired to precisely that goal through over two years of collaboration, it became undeniably obvious by the spring of 2002 that the magnitude of the changes already unfolding in the world of higher education generally and of sociology more specifically render formal proposals premature.

To illustrate the transformations taking place with regard to undergraduate education, no better example exists than the “Greater Expectations” initiatives of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. At their web site ( you find reference to the “Greater Expectations for Student Transfer Project,” which seeks to merge concerns for improved articulation in general education and the major with the Association’s purpose of defining outcomes of baccalaureate degree programs for the college graduate of the 21st century. The leadership of AACU will influence choices made all across the country at all levels of post-secondary education and the prudent path for ASA is to be a partner, rather than to formulate idiosyncratic articulation guidelines at this time.

A parallel change within sociology is the revision of Liberal Learning and the Sociology Major2 . In its original form, this document articulated a powerfully persuasive blueprint for study in depth in the design of the sociology major. Four-year programs with little to no transfer activity would be prime candidates for implementation of the recommendations contained in this publication, but that is exactly the reason that we now so eagerly await its revision. Transfer activity is so commonplace that curriculum guidelines for the sociology major must somehow be mindful of the consequences. With the revision of Liberal Learning and the Sociology Major, we anticipate recommendations for accomplishing study in depth while realistically facing an increasing amount of study in motion. Thus, the inclusion of recommended steps to ease the transition between two-year and four-year programs in sociology in this report would represent the classic error of putting the cart before the horse.

In this context of fluctuation and uncertainty, our Task Force believes that a robust description of the issues requiring attention can be particularly valuable and in that spirit offers its final report. We know that leadership at all levels of curriculum enrichment and reform must balance concerns for efficiency with commitments to integrity, and that an essential precondition of that balancing act is to be fully informed.

A Summary of Information and Issues

The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) provides information for and about the 1,163 two-year colleges in the United States3. As sociologists, we have many reasons to be interested in the programs at these institutions where 44 percent of all undergraduate students are enrolled. Sociologists with faculty appointments typically face significant resource limitations and heavy teaching loads, are expected to package sociology not for a traditional major in the field but for a range of associate degrees, rarely have opportunities to collaborate as equal partners with sociologists at universities, and yet they are expected to inspire students and impart sociology in ways that favor solid performance at the baccalaureate level. Students who have been historically underrepresented in higher education rely extensively on community colleges as their conduit to four-year institutions, realizing thereby a social justice agenda that sociologists generally embrace. For too many students, however, the path from two-year to four-year programs is where they are most vulnerable and may find their dreams deferred, if not denied. By offering a seamless web for students seeking degrees in Sociology, we may honor our professional commitments to equality and diversity while simultaneously enriching undergraduate education in our field. To the extent that sociology faculty and programs at community colleges thrive, so will the public’s recognition of sociology grow and so will the students who transfer courses elsewhere be well prepared.

Close to one-quarter of all baccalaureate degree students are starting their studies at two-year colleges4, where their readiness to succeed in subsequent majors after transferring to four-year institutions is established (U.S. Department of Education, 1997). However, that traditional transfer model may already be eclipsed by the myriad other paths to college diplomas that people pursue. It now appears that the majority of students earning bachelor’s degrees are actually graduating from a different institution than where they began (Shoenberg, 2000) and we assume that sociology roughly fits that general pattern. Students are swirling from one venue or option to another in ways that the traditional transfer model misses. Instead of a routine step from two- to four-year programs, there are forward, reverse, and lateral transfers, co-enrollments, virtual credits and distance learning options that increasingly blur the distinction between two-year and four-year institutions. Two-year colleges are evolving into comprehensive institutions, responding to the educational interests of professionals seeking career enhancements and of students from four-year colleges and universities seeking summer courses to apply to their B.A. or B.S. requirements. It is simply no longer the case that two-year institutions enroll only two-year students, and the consequences of this for articulation agreements are insufficiently recognized.

Our investigation of the points of view of various stakeholders in sociology articulation results in these perspectives outlined below.

Community College Perspective
The pertinent issues here are:

  1. elitism; they face persistently negative perceptions from four-year schools.
  2. inequality; their students face differential treatment as transfers.
  3. neglect; they are ignored in the process of curriculum change.
  4. rigidity; emphasis on lower/upper division creates frustrating limits.
  5. raiding; four-year institutions encouraging early student exit by transfer.
  6. transfer shock; poor transfer reception causes poor student performance.
  7. access; they must plan to maximize opportunity for college enrollments.
  8. multiple goals; they teach very diverse students with very diverse plans, from completing a 4 year degree to following a vocational program to taking courses solely for personal interest

Four-Year College Perspective

Many concerns here are counterparts to the issues above:

  1. quality; transfers are perceived as less well prepared.
  2. non-uniformity; transfer diversity strains pre-requisites, etc.
  3. conflicted purpose; vocationalism undermines transferability.
  4. neglect; they are uninformed about relevant two-year curriculum changes.
  5. invasion; two-year colleges are offering upper division courses.
  6. waste; transfers are viewed as high work / low success.
  7. access; two-year schools are to handle this role for difficult cases.
  8. heterogeneity; for some 4 year schools, transfers come from many different institutions, incl. 4-year institutions, making it hard to collaborate with colleagues in the “feeder” schools

Student Perspective

In recent years, student voices have claimed:

  1. inflexibility; curricula are excessively structured by institutions.
  2. red tape; transfer is unnecessarily difficult.
  3. confusion; transfer policies are unclear or meaningless.
  4. unfairness; differential transfer treatment is presumptive and unjust.
  5. duplicity; credit loss, repeating courses, extended time to degree are suspiciously expensive.
  6. access; all colleges should aim to maximize opportunity.

Policy-maker Perspective

  1. tax burden; unwarranted costs for education must be eliminated.
  2. coordination; system segments must be managed effectively.
  3. accountability; effectiveness must be demonstrated.
  4. standards; agreement on high standards is necessary for assessment.
  5. remediation; deficiencies must be addressed throughout systems.
  6. access; opportunity should be maximized by cooperation at all levels.

The cross-purposes of particular constituencies create power plays that obscure the dialogue on the issues. The greatest pressure toward legislative fashioning of articulation law and procedure is the demand for reduction of waste. But where is the waste? Some perceive curricular demands in the context of transfer decisions as a matter of raw self-interest by faculty; it keeps enrollments higher and maintains flows of students and dollars. From this perspective, the cost of programs designed for study in depth, with higher credits, specific courses required in sequence, adherence to prerequisites, etc., is difficulty completing the degree. From a disciplinary perspective, the costs of superficial degree programs include a weak academic reputation, an ambiguous public image, and poorly prepared graduates. In comparison to many other disciplines, these are costs that sociology disproportionately incurs. Attention to the undergraduate major and articulation agreements is an essential line of defense.

II. Report on the Undergraduate Major

The decision to revise Liberal Learning and the Sociology Major is one the Task Force emphatically endorses. It would be hard to overstate the importance of this work. Sociology programs are characterized by such diversity in content and requirements that the meaning of an undergraduate degree in the field can vary remarkably both within and between institutions. Not only are many students missing the “study in depth” that the original Liberal Learning and the Sociology Major addressed, there are many whose employment prospects are weakened by the generalized uncertainty regarding what it means to be “a sociology major.” Without aiming for the precision of what it means to be “a chemistry major,” by contrast, sociology departments can adopt guidelines that assure more internal commonality and more external recognition and respect.

This Task Force calls for a major that has more structure, greater depth (through sequencing), and greater consistency across institutions.

What is so perplexing about this diagnosis of the undergraduate major is how to envision a prescription that remains user friendly to transfer students. Liberal Learning and the Sociology Major makes a commendable case for sequencing of courses. Yet, sequencing will likely create difficulties for the two-year transfer and also for the quite common phenomenon in our discipline of the late declaring major. This problem has several manifestations: transfer equivalency, theory-method treatment, sequencing complexity, goal diversity and program survival.

Transfer Equivalency

Central to these difficulties is transfer equivalency and the lower/upper division distinction. Community college courses are lower division by definition and courses in the major are currently heavily upper division. Guidelines that identify required major courses at the lower division as preparation for greater upper division depth will impose new responsibilities on community colleges seeking to advise and instruct their baccalaureate bound students. The readiness of faculty at four-year institutions to accept by transfer courses that belong to the required core of the major instead of only assorted lower level electives is dubious. Exacerbating this problem is the expansion of community college departments into substantive courses in service to other departments that are typically considered upper division topics. The importance of cultivating more equal partnerships between two-year and four-year faculty comes into sharp focus as this complication for the undergraduate major is explored.


A second problem with sequencing is the specific challenge of early grounding in theory and methodology. The original Liberal Learning and the Sociology Major suggests theory, method and statistics as tier two of the late sophomore year/early junior year. The barriers include: 1) the central importance of theory and method to most four-year programs and likely opposition to "farming them out," 2) the very low likelihood that such courses would meet enrollment minimums at most community colleges and 3) the lower likelihood that most community colleges, with their reliance on adjuncts, would have faculty effectively trained to teach these courses.

The ASA, through the Minority Opportunities through School Transformation (MOST) Program and the new Integrating Data Analysis (IDA) Project, has worked intensively with departments to improve research training throughout the curriculum (for non-majors, minors, and majors). To the extent that this approach is adopted by more departments, the dependence on “the methods sequence” to serve as the only exposure to research will be reduced.

Sequencing Complexity

Significant sequencing would add complexity for the student attempting to complete the program and for departments scheduling courses. Very large departments might offer courses frequently enough but most could not. Transfer students would enter in their junior year and need to begin the sophomore curriculum, as would students who discover sociology late and declare majors as juniors. As the number and interconnectedness of sequences increases, the prospects for transfer students diminish and the ease with which articulation agreements may be reached declines.

Goal Diversity

The program design in Liberal Learning and the Sociology Major appears ideal for the graduate school-bound major but may be inappropriate for other goals. Of all the purposes students bring to a course or the major, this is probably the most rare. Of course, the future of the discipline depends on serving the graduate school bound group well but it also depends on serving other groups. The diversity of student goals and institutional contexts needs consideration. At the least, more needs to be known about what these differences are. Some of these go to the heart of social diversity issues. Community colleges serve the less privileged or "non-traditional" with respect to race, ethnicity, gender, class, age and more. Sociology as a field of study also tends to have an affinity with the less privileged. A presenter at a 2001 ASA session said: "sociology is not the major for the boat people." It certainly is not to be defined as the preferential major for any specific constituency, but it certainly does need to acknowledge the aspirations of students whose education will be capped by the baccalaureate degree.

In sum, the central dilemma raised by the Liberal Learning and the Sociology Major document is how to reconcile the highly desirable sequencing of sociology courses with the realities of program resources and student mobility. Sequencing promises to remedy some of the superficiality of undergraduate courses and counter the dreaded “dumbing down” phenomenon in the upper division. The adherence to pre-requisites this entails, however, creates a series of complications, not the least of which is the accommodation of transfer students. Some articulation agreements only apply to general education requirements; others contain agreements for specific majors. Either way, baccalaureate programs in sociology do not want to shun incoming majors on the basis of lower division and upper division distinctions that cannot be imposed upon two-year institutions. Faculty at community colleges can not be expected to orient their teaching around service courses for the four-year major; they are busy meeting their institution’s needs for specific substantive coverage and their students’ general needs for more applied versions of sociology.

Indeed, there is NO sociology major at the two-year level. There are students expressing an interest in sociology but they are very few in number. For two-year institutions to structure instruction around those rare cases is foolhardy. Instead, the implied goal is to enhance the sociological understanding of social life. All programs, courses and faculty do this but in different ways and to different degrees based on the needs of students. The Task Force on the Undergraduate Major, mindful of these complications, will accomplish for ASA and for the discipline as a whole much of what the Task Force on Articulation of Sociology in Two-Year and Four-Year Sociology Programs was charged to do but could only begin to accomplish.

III. Report on Articulation Agreements

There are three main styles of articulation agreements enacted at the state level (Shoenberg, 2000). One relies on voluntary agreements, typically bilateral, negotiated between specific institutions; 15 states are in this category. Another involves agreements with a wider net cast, connecting multiple institutions within a system and requiring systemic authority to monitor and enforce; 13 states are in this category. The final and most widely observed approach to articulation, found in 22 states, establishes statewide core curricular agreements, typically mandated by state legislatures seeking to streamline public expenditures for higher education. Appendix A shows a geographic distribution of these approaches. Within these variations, there are different degrees of collaboration and/or professional respect between faculties, tracking of student performance, or support services to facilitate student success (Ignash, 1999; Laanan, 1996; Tobolowsky, 1999). We would wish for “a seamless flow” to benefit everyone involved, but we have stubborn obstacles to overcome (Wolfson, 1994).

One of the most informative directions of the Task Force work was the exploration of articulation arrangements in different states. Here are some illustrative cases:


The ASSIST (“Articulation System Stimulating Interinstitutional Student Transfer”) information, available on the web ( offers in a single data base answers to questions for transfer among and between 107 community colleges, 22 California State University campuses and 9 University of California campuses. An extensive common course numbering system aids articulation, and comparable academic rigor is claimed for courses on the list. The statewide articulation agreements provide minimum focus on sociology in particular. One approach to improving transfer students’ experiences is found at California State University at Monterey Bay, which has developed a system for transfers to document “individualized learning plans” with their advisors, oriented around the “major learning outcomes” set up by the system. The Transfer Alliance Program (TAP), offered by the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), allows students to pursue an honors program at cooperating community colleges while completing the prerequisites for transfer. Each participating TAP college supports the alliance with teams of faculty and counselors coordinating a core of enriched courses to meet general education requirements as well as prerequisites for majors in the UCLA College of Letters and Science. The TAP courses require students to engage in writing, reading, and research that are more extensive than that offered in regular courses, and they have lower enrollments to enhance the interaction between faculty and students and among students. Students who complete the program are given priority consideration for admission to UCLA's College of Letters and Science.


The state legislature mandated annual planning and assessment meetings for disciplines, and a statewide Instructional Council has designed a learning outcomes assessment grid for the accurate evaluation of course competencies. While the outcomes are essentially an inventory of terms and concepts found in traditional introductory texts, the effort to formalize an assessment tool that can link institutions in this way signals a distinctive standardization strategy. Networking across institutions is encouraged by arrangements for faculty from the community college to teach lower division courses at the university. The collaboration between ASU West and Glendale Community College, its main feeder institution, exemplifies a particularly close association. The fact that Arizona funds articulation strategy reviews every year shows an unusual financial investment.

North Carolina

A legislative mandate resulted in the CAA (Comprehensive Articulation Agreement) that applies to all 59 North Carolina community colleges and all 16 constituent institutions of the University of North Carolina. Performance data (mean GPA) for transfers is tracked annually and broken down by institutions and by areas of study (i.e. social sciences). The scope of this tracking data is worthy of review and may be studied online ( A Community College Common Course Library is online to guide choices, as are “pre-major” articulation agreements, which define how a student ought to meet requirements for the general education core in ways that favor progress in a specific major. The Common Course listings for sociology include Introduction to Sociology, Family, Social Problems, Social Diversity & Social Psychology, none of which have pre-requisites. Many private, independent institutions also accept these public agreements. Information posted by the Joint Committee on College Transfer Students is designed to be of help, although it appears to be rarely updated.


The voluntary IAI (Illinois Articulation Initiative) organizes relations for 109 (out of 185) higher education institutions in the state. The IAI is impressive on multiple counts and merits additional exploration at its web site ( It achieves an equal partners approach; has provisions for all patterns of transfer movement (reverse, early, lateral, traditional); engages faculty as primary decision-makers; balances system’s and institutions’ needs; monitors agreements for general education and program-specific plans; and has provisions for assessing performance. The IAI contains a transferable lower division curriculum for an extensive list of majors and sociology is one of them. Because they did not adopt a common course numbering approach, they actually accomplish more interactive review of syllabi and course competencies. Authority is anchored in panels (Steering Panel, General Education Panels, Panels for the Majors) and panels have broad representation from different institutions. The Panel for the Sociology Major agreed to guarantee transfer for up to 12 semester credits, listing Introduction to Sociology as a prerequisite course and offering five lower division courses from which students may select a maximum of three: Social Problems, Marriage and Family, Racial and Ethnic Relations, Sociology of Sex and Gender, Sociology of Deviance.


Texas requires mandated articulation for all public schools and many private institutions. The state mandated agreement covers the general education or the core curriculum generally covered in the first two years of college. A common course numbering system (TCCNS) lists about 1000 courses that are transferable ( Sociology does not currently have a mandated “field of study” program. “Field of study,” designed by the TCCNS Board, is discipline specific and once a major has an approved field of study, there are certain courses that have to be accepted to the major automatically. Presently, only a few disciplines such as business, music, and engineering technology have a field of study. Texas is working on new fields of studies for 15 more disciplines. The most commonly transferred courses in sociology are Introductory Sociology, Social Problems, Minority Studies, Marriage and Family. The Texas Common Course Numbering System Board has meetings on a quarterly basis to make decisions about courses to list. No formal system for tracking performance data is in operation.


The Minnesota Transfer Curriculum (MTC) operates between the two university systems: the larger system, the Minnesota Universities and Colleges System, and the University of Minnesota system which consists of the four universities at Twin Cities, Duluth, Morris, and Crookston. Institutions in Minnesota outside of these two university systems may voluntarily also participate in the MTC. Articulation information is provided on the web ( but much of the articulation, other than general education, appears to be at the individual institution level and on a case-by-case basis. A university scholastic committee may review articulation decisions although in practice that seldom occurs. At the University of Minnesota the registrar’s office makes the decisions about transfer in terms of general education requirements, and the faculty decide on how courses will be used in a particular major or minor. Although transfer decisions are not based upon student competencies, a student’s performance may determine whether or not upper-division credit will be awarded as the student nears completion of the degree requirements. If a student is doing very well in her/his upper division courses, she/he may be allowed to use some second-year community college courses as part of the upper division electives requirement for the sociology major.


An “Academic Passport” facilitates transfer between the state universities and 14 community colleges, but “state-related” universities like Penn State or the University of Pittsburgh and private institutions are not in the passport plan. For them, decisions regarding course transfer rest with the institution’s Registrar and no other formal criteria from departments apply. Colleagues indicate experiencing difficulty with students entering junior level courses after transferring from the community colleges, however no systematic tracking is done to assess the actual scope of performance problems.

This brief sample conveys something of the range of developments in the changing logic of state legislatures, Boards of Regents, Education Departments and other governing bodies that confront articulation issues. In a state with truly enormous enrollments, such as California, the flexibility of connecting multiple institutions without forcing conformity across the board makes possible a special consortium such as TAP. In Arizona, the networking of faculty because of shared teaching and a mandatory planning meeting every year reduces the distance between two-year and four-year institutions. This would not be conceivable in California due to size alone. In North Carolina, where teacher exchange and annual meetings do not occur, faculty and administrators can consult extensive tracking data, specific to institutions and to areas of study, any day of the week. Whether they do nor not is an empirical question, but professors are not even able to do it in Arizona or in Texas although, like North Carolina, these states operate under a state mandated agreement. The statewide agreement in Texas established a statewide authority, the TCCNS Board, which makes decisions on courses to approve for listing in the common system and for “field of study” courses that apply to a major. Not surprisingly, this Board meets often; it is faced with a huge administrative task. It cannot possibly offer equal voice to all disciplines or programs under its authority, but perhaps it can offer efficiency and regularity of oversight. In Illinois, where varying Panels representing specific constituency groups make articulation decisions, there is more participatory governance in evidence and no doubt more strain on the professional workload of those panelists serving this voluntary vs. mandated system of agreements. On the other hand, the voluntary Illinois Articulation Initiative, absent the structure of a statewide mandate, appears to have addressed a range of articulation challenges with the most comprehensive success. Other systems that rely even partly on voluntary agreements linking institutions, such as we see in Minnesota and Pennsylvania, have less well coordinated agreements, especially with regard to transfer credits for majors, than are found in Illinois. Depending upon your gaze, you may conclude that formal and statewide mandates are the obvious solution or that only the latitude and professional competencies found with voluntary and regional collaborations are promising.

Without more published evaluation of assorted articulation models, the Task Force is in no position to identify “the one” to emulate. Indeed, we have for over two years expressed in almost mantra fashion that no “one size fits all” exists. However, our investigations have taught us to be mindful of these broad concerns that present challenges for most departments wanting to make articulation work:

  • Quality control is a process and not a product; committees or boards or panels with oversight authority must realize that a common number does not create a common educational experience. Whenever community college sociology courses, for example, are diluted versions of social science content, regardless of their name and number, and/or are taught by instructors who are not qualified, deficiencies are carried over into 4-year programs where professors of 300-400 level courses find themselves teaching introductory level content, thereby diluting those subjects too. The dreaded “dumbing down” phrase applies.
  • Sufficient faculty control or disciplinary review is difficult to reconcile with legislative mandates and difficult to achieve voluntarily.
  • Attention to sequencing of courses is rare, especially with agreements affecting the lower division, and this makes progress away from the “Ferris wheel model” for the sociology major an increasingly complicated aim (ASA, 1990).5 The idea of levels of courses is common and defensible but introduces articulation problems when transfer of credits hinges on lower-upper division distinctions.
  • Faculty workload is not characteristically designed to assign time to articulation and transfer tasks. Without purposeful attention to student and program needs, the expected result is neglect and the likely outcome is decisions made by external authorities with less insight.
  • Limits to the credits universities will accept by transfer from two-year colleges do not place limits on the number or the level (i.e. upper division) of classes students may take there; financial and attitudinal consequences can be steep.
  • The overlap of non-introductory courses at 2-year and 4-year programs will only increase, judging from simple market considerations. As community colleges offer associates degree programs in more areas (i.e., health services, criminal justice, etc.), their course offerings will expand to include subjects heretofore considered upper division. This only muddies the articulation waters.6
  • Price differentials will continue to make summer school courses at community colleges very attractive to students of 4-year programs, further emphasizing the need for clear articulation criteria.

IV. Actions for ASA to Consider

Members of the Task Force contacted Robert Shoenberg at the headquarters of the American Association of Colleges and Universities to inquire directly how the ASA might contribute to the “Greater Expectations” projects of AAC&U. That dialogue indicated that our primary interest should be “not only literal articulation but meaningful articulation.” Clarification of the intentions that underlie requirements for the major is an essential step in the direction of “meaningful articulation.” Even a somewhat primitive agreement across institutions about what an introductory course is to do, such as to focus on the epistemology of social science, would represent an important advance. Leadership at the national level is the only avenue for the cultivation of any degree of consensus regarding what constitutes evidence for sociologists; what kinds of questions sociologists answer and what are its borders; what approaches address questions adjacent to those borders; what makes the sociological “way of knowing” distinctive. In effect, we need to collectively identify a set of core competencies, or a generic set of learning objectives, for introducing sociology to the novice. What is at stake is less about terms and concepts and more about modes of inquiry. Shoenberg expressed a high level of interest in having a “model” professional association speaking to the questions of how its field of knowledge matters in the wider dialogue on general education.

Accomplishments along these lines could clarify standards for Advanced Placement courses, in which high school students are earning college credits; clarify the intentional and meaningful objectives for lower division introductory credits regardless of type of institution, thereby aiding articulation; and simultaneously improve the relevance of introductory study of sociology for the majority of students who do not consider themselves sociology majors when they enroll in that first course. In order to make progress in a national context, sociologists will need increased dialogue on what is the core of the discipline and what is non-essential. Leadership from the ASA may be the only way to achieve any actual agreement on these matters. Ted Wagenaar's (Miami University-Ohio) research on the major suggests sociologists have widely varying opinions about the core concepts and competencies of our field.

The NSF grant that ASA now has to fund projects integrating data analysis at early levels of instruction in sociology could yield guidelines that may be easily adopted by faculty across different types of institutions. Furthermore, because the ability to evaluate the quality of evidence, to be a critical consumer of social science information, is so centrally linked to the “core proficiencies” that AAC&U (2001) identify for all baccalaureate degree programs, the fruits of the NSF grant could provide a basis for advancing sociology more vigorously as a component of general education requirements in higher education. The more clearly we communicate about ourselves, the more capably we will resolve several of our weaknesses, including the shape of the major and the articulation entanglements. Direct efforts to acquire additional grants to pilot early instructional improvements for perspectives in the social sciences can place ASA in a genuinely valuable leadership position as the wave of “greater expectations” begins to crest.

One of the persistent stumbling blocks to smooth articulation involves the divergence between lower and upper division courses in the major. ASA could seek to issue constructive guidelines that recognize varying degrees of rigor in the discipline and suggest typical expectations for different levels of learning. Perhaps library retrieval of information at the lower level followed by generation of new data at the upper level would be an example of the differentiation to advocate. ASA Sections could be asked to supply guidelines for what they consider to be core learning outcomes desirable in lower division courses. As we enrich instruction at the lower division, both majors and non-majors grasp a greater capacity to know their world sociologically. One of the chronic complaints in connection with articulation is the absence of consistency of course content, in spite of common numbering systems. ASA could sponsor workshops for dialogue and decision-making on how to accomplish more cooperation and quality control so that a Family Sociology course at any institution in an articulation agreement is equivalent to a Family Sociology course at any other in the agreement. Task Force member Harriet Hartman’s report on practices in New Jersey, for example, explains that sociologists were involved in the articulation agreement for the bank of general education courses to be accepted across institutions, but no provisions for regular review were created. Consequently, while the faculty for the major in mathematics meet each year in a statewide conference, with representatives from each institution in the New Jersey agreement, the sociologists are disconnected. For ASA to address this disconnect in some appropriately publicized venues would provide at least a call to action for others, and perhaps provide some leverage for faculty seeking funds that would enable them to do likewise.

ASA can communicate with accreditation agencies about concerns pertaining to course competencies and to competent instruction. An inescapable predicament revolves around the range of credentials held by faculty who teach sociology. Whether our disciplinary concern is for lower division courses or for specific learning outcomes as stepping stones to more study in depth for the baccalaureate degree in sociology, instructional competence at every level is of central importance. Some two-year institutions are located where sociologists with graduate training are very hard to recruit and the compromises they make are professionally unacceptable. On behalf of the sociology major and in the interests of smoother articulation agreements, this is a matter of professional integrity that must be addressed. Technologies may soon be capable of solving problems where institutions are unable to employ faculty with appropriate credentials, but that capacity does not create the will or the way. ASA pressure, especially if expressed in league with other social science associations that are likely to share the concern, might help to generate the will on the part of accrediting agencies to raise or to enforce more consistently the bar on credential requirements.

The ASA revision of the Liberal Learning and the Sociology Major might take into consideration the possibility of multiple “majors” with particular goals and resources in mind. Because the undergraduate curriculum is so multifaceted with graduate school-bound majors, vocational/applied majors, traditional liberal arts majors, sociology minors, multidisciplinary majors and minors and two-year programs involving lower division credentials, a capacity to customize majors along with illustrative guidelines may be welcomed by many departments.

V. Actions for Departments to Consider

First and foremost, individual departments must practice the old dictum to “Know thyself.” Departments need to understand where they are in “higher educational space,” so to speak, and make plans accordingly. The Task Force heard enough anecdotal evidence to believe that departments most typically do not know the degree to which transfers are affecting their program, for good or for ill, and how their policies or criteria for evaluating transfer credits compare with those of other sociology programs or disciplines. Many did not know whether their state had a mandatory agreement or some other regulations.

Departments would plan better by knowing:

  • The percentage of sociology majors who are transfer students, and how that compares with other majors at their institution.
  • The percentage of sociology majors who declare late, with two years or less to plan for graduation, and how that compares with others at their institution.
  • Whether or not their institution participates in an articulation agreement and what aspects of that agreement, if there is one, directly or indirectly influence sociology enrollments and instruction.
  • If transfer tracking data are available to inform departmental plans.
  • The institutions from which or to which they are often “exchanging” students.

Knowing about the departmental and institutional level of transfer activity is essential for planning adequately for meeting transfers’ particular needs. Differences in campus and class size, academic rigor, institutional culture, peer group expectations and the advising environment contribute to “transfer shock” and are associated with a dip in GPA during the first one or two semesters at a new institution (Laanan, 1996). In situations with even a moderate amount of evidence to suggest this is a pattern on site, departments might work on their own or in league with other departments to design remedies such as orientation sessions geared particularly for transfer students, and provisions for continuing mentoring for any at risk. A mentor/mentee program for incoming transfer students could be developed and implemented. Programs sponsored by student affairs, orientation programs, or student-run organizations could develop activities for new (or incoming) transfer students to be paired with current students at the senior institution. The goal is to ease the transition process for new transfer students by learning from former transfer students and from their experiences. Learning about the institutional and academic culture of the senior institution from a fellow student's perspective could benefit new transfer students.

Information about the prominence of late declaring majors in addition to the proportion of transfers is an enormously important detail for evaluating options to accomplish study in depth in the major. While four-year schools can certainly benefit from courses representing four-levels of sequencing available for the small number of sociology majors who declare as freshman and complete their studies at the same institution, in most settings the bulk of their efforts will be to serve internal or external transfer students who may or may not have progressed beyond an introductory level at the start of their junior year of study. It might be possible to think of sequencing within a year and not be confined to conceptualizing sequencing as occurring only between freshman, sophomore, junior and senior years. In any event, compressed sequencing is likely to be the only realistic adjustment departments can make, especially if they receive many of their majors late in the game.

In light of the problems associated with compressed sequencing, consider a “rising junior assessment” tool that would be a useful diagnostic innovation for all of the students who will be enrolling in upper division courses, regardless of whether they transfer in or not. It could consist of writing an essay on what sociology is, what sociological theory is, and how sociologists know what they say they know. It could include a paper they’ve written for a college class. It could include a book review of their favorite sociological book. Or it could be a test your department devises. You will learn what the variation is among your students, and determine what to do about it. Maybe you’ll need to add a remedial course or workshop for some of your students. Maybe you’ll need to revise your junior classes to fit the level of the majority of your students. Maybe you’ll need to coordinate with whoever teaches the lower division sociology courses to incorporate more critical thinking about sociology. But first you need to have an idea where your students stand in relation to the goals you’ve laid out for them. If peer departments are facing similar challenges, seek wider institutional support for the work that junior level assessment will entail.

Knowledge about articulation agreements in place and about institutions most typically linked by way of those agreements can lead to a more informed engagement with policy-makers about your need for collaboration with colleagues elsewhere, for regular oversight of course comparabilities, for tracking and/or performance data. Use this knowledge to construct that “more equal partnership” that the articulation literature identifies as so important to success. Aim to establish consistency in the lower division courses that are offered, whether they be at two-year or at four-year colleges. If lower division courses from two-year colleges could be accepted toward the major, four-year college programs could concentrate more on upper division courses, and sociology majors could learn more sociology in their time in the major.

Be familiar as well with the variety of articulation agreements, as described elsewhere in this report. Knowing what has been accomplished in other systems or other states gives you a stronger base from which to argue about the changes you want to advocate on your own turf. Involve your institutional research office in dialogue about ways to better assess your needs in the context of reliable comparative data.

Investigate pedagogical possibilities for resolving curricular problems while also creating a more transfer friendly environment. These seem to be a forever evolving component of analyses and critiques of higher education and they are not all worthy of adoption. However some may be precisely the right fit for some needs. As an example, try thinking in terms of competencies or problem-solving skills rather than courses. Develop a core set of skills and competencies that you want your majors to have, and sequence these. Code specific courses by which skills and competencies they cover, offering alternatives at different levels. Students may then be advised (required) to sequence these core competencies rather than specific courses. For quantitative skills you may want your introductory students just to become aware of the different kinds of methods that sociologists use to gather data, and to be able to read a table. At the next level, you may want the students to be able to manipulate data, be it primary or secondary analysis. At the next level, you may want students to gather their own data for a research question. Each of these levels may appear in several courses: the introductory level may be in Introduction to Sociology, Family, Social Problems, and Minority Groups, for instance. The second level may be in Sociology of Medicine, Criminology, and Sociology of Work. The third level may be in your Capstone Seminar. You decide which courses will have which components of your core competencies, and have the students sequence these competencies.

Create an agenda for at least five departmental meetings:

  1. To locate yourself in “edu-space” – where are you in the articulation landscape and how you think that influences your teaching of sociology?
  2. To report on inquiries with other departments and/or institutions that emerge from #1.
  3. To invite the Registrar to discuss articulation policy issues with your department.
  4. To host or visit colleagues who face similar realities and/or to listen to students who have instructive experiences to share.
  5. To identify /appoint an “articulation guru” for the department. This is especially important for those that have no formal arrangements for transfer credit assessment for the major, student mentoring, and tracking performance data to inform policy decisions.

VI. Conclusion

This report concludes the work of the Task Force on the Articulation of Sociology in Two-Year and Four-Year Sociology Programs. In consideration of the numerous changes underway both internal and external to the ASA that will alter the nature of articulation concerns for sociology, the Task Force is reluctant to issue a series of structured recommendations. Instead, a combination of information, illustrations and informed ideas for an assortment of actions is presented, all in the spirit of creating a sharper awareness of how significantly these issues affect the undergraduate major and the wider climate of appreciation for the discipline. These suggestions can stimulate proactive planning appropriate to the evolving circumstances faced by faculty and administrators in community colleges and baccalaureate degree granting institutions, and by leaders of this professional association as members of a wider circle of concerned voices in social sciences and higher education.

Recognizing that this report is informationally rich but motivationally poor, in the sense that few readers will study it comprehensively for authoritative command of the topic, the Task Force believes that compact and motivational materials may be derived from the contents presented here. Brochures or brief articles for Footnotes that offer busy professors a quick glance at specific dimensions of the articulation terrain can provide a growing rationale for collective and perhaps even concerted steps that will serve the interests of sociologists writ large. Members of this Task Force stand ready to assist with the development of such materials, or with other initiatives that can constructively respond to the issues here described.

Appendix A
(Shoenberg, 2000)


1According to the American Association of Community Colleges, officials from several urban community colleges and historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) recently signed an agreement that marks their commitment to facilitate the transfer of African-American students with associate degrees to four-year universities. The partnership came after nearly two years of planning and meetings involving more than 80 colleges and universities across the country. Because community colleges attract such a high proportion of minorities in American higher education, this agreement aims to move more minority students toward baccalaureate degree completion. Between 1992 and 1997, minority enrollment at community colleges increased from 25 to 30 percent and their enrollment at four-year colleges jumped from 21 to 24 percent (AACU, 2002). Reports such as this about advancements on the frontier of transfer and articulation agreements would seem to require two responses from sociologists. One would be applause for the gains in access to higher education, and one would be mobilization to influence these and other initiatives as they apply to us.

2The ASA Task Force on the Undergraduate Major is undertaking this revision, due to be completed in August 2003.

3There are 980 public institutions; 152 are private independents; 31 are tribally operated.

4A figure that may signal unacceptably low articulation accomplishments, given the centrality of the transfer function for equalizing opportunities.

5The Ferris wheel image is a helpful device for understanding the consequences of inadequate sequencing of courses: with one step on, you get access to every level.

6Task Force member Lyle Hallowell offers a pertinent illustration of the problem: “I teach criminology at my community college. Criminology is an upper division course at many 4-year institutions. Criminology is the largest enrollment "upper division” course here. The Criminal Justice program here is the largest in New York. This creates a stable base of students in a two-year program. But the registrar permits any student to enroll. In any semester there is likely to be one self-identified future sociology major among 100+ students. The rest are taking the course as an interesting elective. The course raises few transfer problems since most students view it as elective credit or as a program-specific lower division requirement. Ironically, only the Sociology major may have trouble transferring the credit since most sociology programs will not accept a lower division course as an upper division equivalent.”

Works Cited

American Association of Colleges and Universities Web Site November 21, 2000.

American Association of Colleges and Universities. 2001. Project Partners with Accreditors on Assessment and Student Achievement: Greater Expectations Update, Number 3, December. Washington, D.C.

American Association of Community Colleges. Transfer to Four-Year Colleges Gets Easier for Minority Students. Headline News, April 26, 2002.

American Sociological Association. 1990. Liberal Learning and The Sociology Major. A Joint Report of the ASA and the Association of American Colleges National Review of Arts and Sciences Majors.

Laanan, Frankie Santos. “Making the Transition: Understanding the Adjustment Process of Community College Transfer Students” Community College Review 23:4 (1996): 16 pp. MasterFILE Premier. July 25, 2000.

Ignash, Jan. In the Shadow of Baccalaureate Institutions. ERIC Digest. November 17, 1999.

Shoenberg, Robert. 2000. “Why Do I Have to Take This Course?” or Credit Hours, Transfer, and Curricular Coherence. Peer Review Vol. 2 No. 2 (Winter): 4-8.

Tobolowsky, Barbara. Improving Transfer and Articulation Policies. ERIC Clearinghouse for Community Colleges. November 17, 1999.

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. 1997. The Condition of Education. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Wagenaar, Theodore C. 2000. unpublished report on goals of the sociology major, a project for the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning.

Wolfson, Gloria K. 1994. The Seamless Flow. ERIC database NO: ED386120.

Last Updated on January 08, 2005