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Assessing Equivalence

The norms of academic autonomy include the right and responsibility of faculty members to design and teach a course using their individual expertise and judgment. Thus, faculty members assigned to deliver the same course in the same institution may not choose to teach in the same way. They may choose different texts, readings, assignments, exercises, or topics. In each discipline, however, the traditions, norms, and body of knowledge of that discipline exercise a broad influence over what is appropriate content coverage at introductory, intermediate, and advanced levels. An institution's internal governance process also regulates course and program content through approving course and program content and structuring.

Thus, a post-secondary course with the same name or title may not have the same content at every institution, and the degree of similarity between courses may vary according to the discipline. The assessment of course transferability must therefore rely on the judgment of faculty members as to the equivalence of content, structure, and format between or across courses. There are several broad criteria that can be used to assess equivalence.

Content:  There is no universal rule regarding the amount of similarity in course content, structure, or format that is needed for a course to receive transfer credit. In courses where mastery of certain knowledge can improve students' chances of success in subsequent courses, it may be essential to have a substantial match of content between courses that transfer. Some institutions or disciplines have developed a general rule for the amount of common content that is needed for courses to be considered transferable, while others make case-by-case judgments. Evaluators should look at whether the articulation request involves a course in which it is important to have as close a match as possible with the equivalent course. If so, they should take that into account in evaluating the content of the course. If the content of a course involves regional practices (e.g., laws governing a profession in a specific jurisdiction), then a transfer request for a course from a different jurisdiction may be denied even if both courses' topics are the same, as familiarity with the regional content in the receiving course has not been achieved.

Outcomes:  Courses can have similar goals, objectives, aims, and outcomes, even if their content, structure, or format varies. For example, two writing courses may be different in their texts, instructional styles, methods of delivery, and evaluation and grading practices, but have the same goal of teaching students to write at a post-secondary level. Evaluators may need to decide if an articulation request for a course with differences from the equivalent course at their own institution produces the same outcomes. 

Applicability to Credential Completion:  A course which has no equivalent at the institution at which transfer credit is requested may still be transferrable for credit towards elective or breadth requirements of a credential. For example, some institutions may not offer courses in linguistics, criminology, religious studies, archaeology, or certain languages, and may not grant course-to-course transfer for courses in these disciplines at other institutions. However, if a course does not have a direct disciplinary equivalent at the receiving institution, but is taught at the same academic level as other courses in a credential program at that institution - and the standard of performance expected of students in the course is comparable to that in other courses in the program - the transferring course can be given unassigned or elective transfer credit.