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Despite appeal of transfer credits, students say the process is difficult to navigate

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Some Stanford students have chosen to take classes at other institutions during a gap year or leave of absence during the pandemic. But when it comes to transferring those credits to Stanford, students say they’ve hit a bureaucratic wall.

That wall is the process to transfer credit. To do so, courses must be taken at a “regionally accredited institution” and must have “substantial content overlap” with Stanford coursework. The University must approve all transfer courses, and students must receive additional approval to count transfer courses for major requirements or Stanford’s general education requirements, also known as Ways of Thinking/Ways of Doing, according to the Registrar’s Office.

In a statement to The Daily, University spokesperson E.J. Miranda wrote that the University has made changes to the transfer credit policy during the 2020-21 academic year in response to the pandemic. This includes lifting the ban on online work, eliminating the 15-unit cap on transfer credit completed online and lifting the ban on transfer work completed via official Joint Services Transcript. The University has also made it so transfer credit can be used to meet certain Ways, PWR and Language requirements.

Students take such classes for a variety of reasons: Some students, like Matthew Jumamoy ’21, opt to use transfer credit to graduate early or to lessen financial burdens. Others simply hope to use transfer credit to make progress toward their degree during a leave of absence or gap year. 

Glen Husman ’23 has taken several classes — one on engineering and a few that could satisfy his WAYS requirements — at Foothill Community College in Los Angeles during his fall and winter quarter leaves of absence.

Husman planned on transferring units in because he didn’t see the “full advantage of a Stanford experience happening remotely.”

But he ran into trouble when last year’s Nov. 1 pre-approval deadline for WAYS credit approached — two weeks earlier than the previous year’s pre-approval deadline — and Stanford wanted to see a recently dated syllabus. Husman struggled to get in touch with community college faculty to obtain these syllabi before the modified deadline to get the credit. And while someone can apply for post-deadline approval, there is the risk of not getting credit for the courses they take.

However, the process with the WAYS office itself was clear for Husman once he managed to submit his courses and syllabi for approval by the pre-approval deadline. “They seemed to take a very reasonable evaluation of the [transfer credit course] on its merits,” said Husman. “They even explained why they denied some courses.”

Jumamoy had a similar experience after taking external courses at community colleges in California. Jumamoy, an urban studies major, is looking to transfer units because he “would have ended up in close to six figures of debt” had he attended all 12 quarters at Stanford. He is currently set to get a degree at the end of the upcoming fall quarter, though he originally matriculated as part of the Class of 2023.

The cost per semester unit for all California community colleges for in-state residents is $46, as compared to Stanford’s summer 2021 per unit cost of $1,233

Jumamoy also found the process of transferring credit to count for WAYS requirements to be difficult and slow.

“It takes a long time to contact the professor and get an updated syllabus for the external course,” Jumamoy said. “The WAYS committee doesn’t meet that often, so you have to account for the time difference when submitting a petition.”

Because of “limited availability of classes,” Jumamoy also had to fill out applications to multiple community colleges to get the classes he needed. He said the urban studies staff and the registrar were “very helpful” throughout the process.

Though Jumamoy and Husman did eventually receive transfer credit, Isha Kalia ’25 was told by the Office of Undergraduate Admission that receiving transfer credit would be unlikely. 

Kalia enrolled in outside courses during her gap year to “stay engaged” because she thought a full year of no classroom stimulation would leave her “in a bad place academically.” Upon consulting Stanford’s admissions office, she found that she was able to enroll in University of Iowa courses during her year off as long as she was “classified as a part-time non-degree seeking student.” 

Husman sees a number of bureaucratic flaws with the University’s current system. 

“The transfer student credit system right now is very decentralized,” he said. “If you want to get something approved for major credit, you need to go through both the registrar and the department.”

Some students, including Husman, are hoping to improve students’ access to transfer credits by partially extending the online classes credit waiver passed in spring 2020, which exempted outside courses taken that term from counting toward transfer credit limits. If this Undergraduate Senate resolution moves forward, students could receive up to 15 transfer units during the 2020-21 academic year without them counting towards the transfer credit caps. 

However, Miranda told The Daily, “this policy was approved to provide flexibility to students who were asked to abruptly leave campus as shelter-in-place began, and because departments are not required to evaluate or accept transfer work that would fall under this policy, this policy will not extend beyond the original Spring 2019-20.” 

This resolution still awaits approval from the Committee on Undergraduate Standards and Policies and the Committee on Graduate Standards and Policies, which must both consider the proposal before it proceeds to the Faculty Senate.

This article has been corrected to reflect Jumamoy’s correct last name spelling. A previous version of the article incorrectly spelled his last name as “Jumanoy.”

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Victoria Hsieh '24 is a Staff Writer for The Daily looking to major in Economics and Biology. She is a Seattle native and enjoys hiking in her free time. Contact The Daily’s News section at news ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.