ATLAS makes transferring credits easier

    An online credit-hour comparison software, which will allow easier transition between Oregon public universities, will now be adopted at all Oregon universities for the first time because of an Oregon University System (OUS) mandate.

    The software program ATLAS, first used in Oregon at Portland State, was created after a section in last year’s Oregon Senate Bill 342 proposed the creation of a statewide course applicability system to allow students and advisers to view credit transfer options and conduct degree audits online.

    Two years ago, Portland State was the first Oregon university to use the Articulation Transfer Linked Audit System (ATLAS) software, also known as the Course Applicability System (CAS). All OUS schools, and possibly some community colleges, will now be using the same system, allowing easier transition between the state’s public higher education institutions.

    The project manager for ATLAS, Mark Endsley, said ATLAS will help Oregon universities that have been hit by cutbacks in personnel as a result of the dire financial situation Oregon universities currently find themselves in.

    ”Financial cutbacks hits advising harder than other areas,” Endsley said. “This system provides support for them. It doesn’t replace advisors, but it can support students’ access to information.”

    ATLAS will eventually allow students and non-students to have access to an online comparison between course work or degree programs at every OUS school and some community colleges. The goal of ATLAS, according to an OUS report, is to allow “transparent transfer of credit between institutions.”

    ”This puts students at the center of this information, and takes the confusion out of transferring,” said Cindy Baccar, director of registration and records. “It helps students make better choices.”

PSU has had the system online for two years, but it is currently the only Oregon school in the system. CAS is a nationwide system, so if a student were to look at transfer options to Arizona State University, for instance, they could.

    It cost about $5,000 to enhance PSU’s system when CAS first came to the University. All initial costs for implementation of ATLAS at other OUS schools will be funded by the chancellor’s office, and there will be no additional cost to PSU for ATLAS, Endsley said.

    The entire ATLAS budget for all seven Oregon universities and 17 potentially involved community colleges is about $650,000, Endsley said. Endsley, who is also director of K-16 alignment for OUS, said that community college presence in the system is not required, but OUS is working with the 17 potentially involved community colleges and will know soon who will be involved.

    An ATLAS campus implementation plan was requested from each OUS University last year, and last month all proposals were received by OUS. A progress report published by OUS earlier this month states that they are in the final stages of the process.

    Community colleges do not need to own a degree audit system, or CAS, to implement part of the ATLAS system. A community college, if desired, can simply choose to assist its students in transferring to an OUS school without a software license.

    The information that CAS and now ATLAS provides has always been available, but admissions counselors in the past had to look in many different places-books, reports, etc.-taking more of students’ and PSU staff’s time than should be necessary, according to Baccar.

    ”In the past all this info has been here, but in paper form,” Baccar said. “This tool provides an efficient and effective way to gather all that information.”

    One part of the software will be updated before full ATLAS implementation begins, which will allow students to automatically import electronic transcripts into the system instead of manually entering each specific course taken, like it is in the current system. This will clear up mistakes and save students time, according to Baccar.

    One of the reasons that the OUS decided to implement the ATLAS program is the increasing number of transfer students, Endsley said. The nature of college students now, Endsley said, is to move around and take courses at multiple universities in their pursuit of a degree.

    ”It’s a pattern of student behavior that’s a new thing for post-secondary education,” Endsley said. “Students are more likely now to shop around for credits and not fully enroll for six years at one institution.”

    Susan Daggett, an educational specialist for the Oregon Department of Education said it is the state’s goal to make transfer between universities as easy as possible for students.

    ”Students in the state are trying to educate themselves or get trained,” Daggett said. “We should try and make it as easy as possible.”

    The ATLAS implementation at all the OUS institutions should be completed by fall of 2007. A marketing and training campaign is also set for next year.

    Degree Audit Report System (DARS) and CAS were developed at Miami University in Ohio. PSU bought the rights for the DARS software in 2000.