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It is time we hold the administration of the School of General Studies to its word. If administrators truly mean that their primary goal is to make General Studies as affordable as possible, they must change their transfer credit policy to accept online classes from other accredited colleges and universities. It would save General Studies students tens of thousands of dollars in student debt.

When I arrived at General Studies from a community college, a significant number of my courses did not transfer to Columbia. An academic advisor explained to me that the University holds certain standards for transfer credits. For example, I could not transfer an in-person math class I took at another institution to college credits at Columbia since it was not at a pre-calculus level. That made sense to me. It is in the interest of the University and its alumni that the Columbia degree carries weight.

However, I was also told (in January, before Columbia transitioned to online classes) that the reason General Studies does not take transfer credit from online classes through community colleges is that Columbia has never conducted classes online. Now that times have changed, the whole University is online, and we see how online courses may serve students in lieu of in-person classes, the policy must reflect that.

Online classes are affordable and specifically benefit those who have to work full-time jobs while struggling to go to school. After having their requests to transfer credits from online classes denied, those students face the additional challenge of having to figure out how to pay for their classes because they took the flexible and affordable option of online classes at a community college.

I only took one online class in community college. It was a world literature course that was equally as hard as anything I have done at Columbia. My class wrote essays on the hundreds of pages of ancient literature we read every week. I look at the list of books in Columbia’s Literature Humanities syllabus, and it overlaps almost entirely with that of the community college class. The course cost me $52 per credit. With Columbia’s price tag of $1,896 per credit, I would have saved $5,532 on that one class.

What makes affording classes even harder is the disproportionately low amount of aid General Studies students receive in comparison to their undergraduate peers, as General Studies admissions are not need-blind. The General Studies website claims that “students in their first period of enrollment will typically receive a scholarship between $9,000 and $12,000.” Despite taking honors classes at community college, graduating summa cum laude, and being a member of Phi Theta Kappa, I only received $7,500 in scholarship from the school. Although I am a reservist in the United States Marine Corps, I also only get $400 a month in GI Bill assistance. The amount of help General Studies students get is an embarrassment every time I discuss the subject with a Columbia College or School of Engineering and Applied Science student. In light of financial difficulties with COVID-19, this is more important than ever.

Online classes can be from accredited schools, yet General Studies is not even attempting to gauge their difficulty. Repeating the “weight of the diploma” argument is a red herring because Columbia is capable of evaluating online courses for transfer credit as it does for any other credit it accepts. The administration is mistaken if it thinks there is any difference in difficulty between online classes students try to transfer and the same classes taken at Columbia.

If the administration of the School of General Studies wants to set us up for success, now is its opportunity to make a change. Rarely is the right thing to do also the easy one.

Matthew Rogers is a General Studies sophomore majoring in history. He is also a C-130 aircrewman and a combat marksmanship coach in the United States Marine Corps Reserve.

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Community college Columbia General Studies online classes student debt affordable
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