Transfers and Degrees;

Getting a Degree vs. Taking Classes

There are two parts to this, the first discussing transfers to four-year schools, the second discussing what you can do if you want to specialize, something the current SGD degree does not really allow.

Part one:

It would be reasonable to assume that if you attend a state-supported community college in North Carolina, you could automatically transfer your credits to a UNC-system university to continue toward a four-year degree. After all, people who transfer do better at the universities than the students who started college there, don't they? (Yes.)

Unfortunately this automatic transfer is not the case. In practice, there are specific classes that transfer, and any other class can be accepted or rejected at the whim of the university.

Community colleges offer a university transfer degree, the Associate of Arts, to differentiate from the technical degrees, Associate of Science (AAS). The Arts folks take the specific courses that transfer. The AAS people take a few such courses, but most are not transfer courses.

Fundamentally, four-year schools "ponder" and two-year schools "do". There's not much overlap between the technical education of CC and the more nebulous education (outside of the sciences) of the universities.

How do you tell which course is which? I was going to say it says with each course description in the college catalog, but upon looking I see that it does not say! Page 72 of the catalog (which is a downloadable PDF--use the catalog page numbers, not the Acrobat page numbers) shows the Arts curriculum, and classes listed there very likely transfer. I don't know how else you'd find out, unfortunately. My wife thinks I should have ironclad answers to such questions, but I don't have access to the main software used by advisors.

Note, for example, that MAT 121 does not transfer. Theoretically MAT 140A does, but at my old school we found that the universities would accept it as transfer but wouldn't allow it to be used to fulfill a math requirement, so it was a mostly useless extra elective!

None of the SGD classes are in this list--which is what I expected. Some may be accepted for transfer to count as electives at the new school, but that's up to the individual school.

The UNC system was forced to accept transfer about ten years ago, and at the same time the community colleges switched from a trimester to a semester system to match the universities. In practice, the universities have dragged their feet and have done what they can to obstruct the process (see MAT 140 above), though Erskine Bowles promised to sort this out when he became UNC President last year.

For universities outside the UNC system, there is no guarantee of anything. It is all a matter of negotiation. Transfer is always chancy. The UNC system graduate schools don't even accept transfers from other UNC graduate schools, beyond three classes!

So if you transfer with an SGD degree to a university, it is mostly a negotiation even within the UNC system. You always have the choice of telling them you'll try some other school, but whether that will make a difference is questionable.

Walter Rotenberry has some advice for programmer students. Students getting a BS in computer science at State only take two semesters of programming (Java, not a language the game industry uses except for some cell phones). He recommends that our students who want to be programmers take CIS 115 (Intro to Programming), CSC 134 (C++), and CSC 234 (Advanced C++), in place of or in addition to SGD 113 and SGD 213.   The SGD classes only transfer to some schools, like NCSU, as electives. (CIS 115 is a corequisite of CSC 134, meaning you'd have to take it before or at the same time as you take CSC 134.)

Because the SGD programming classes are part of the "CORE", it isn't very likely that you can get course substitutions that would allow the C++ classes to substitute for the SGD classes in our two year degree. (The SGD classes are C#, a newer language not in as widespread use, in case you did not know.) Where I used to teach we allowed such substitutions at one time, then switched to not allowing them, unfortunately. I don't know what the policy is here.

We had a networking student at my old school who transferred to Campbell (which chooses to follow the UNC agreement). He took three more years to complete his degree, in large part because he had to take lots of programming classes (no networking degree at Campbell), but also because not all his classes transferred to fill requirements.

Some universities establish specific agreements with community colleges for transfer. For example, at my old school we had a student who had started at Appalachian State, and for medical reasons had to switch to her local school (CCCC). She was in an ECU program that allowed her to take classes at CCCC to get an AAS degree (Web Development), then continue via distance ed to get a bachelor's at ECU, and she plans to start on a masters degree soon while working at CCCC. Wake Tech has some of those agreements, but SGD is not listed as one of the disciplines involved (as yet). You'd want to contact ECU to find out what they will do for you.

Part two:

Ideally, students should be able to specialize in one aspect of SGD and take just enough work in the others to know what is what. I'm told this is what our industry contacts suggested. Those three areas of specialization might be design, graphics, and programming.

Unfortunately, CPCC (Charlotte) got their SGD proposal into the state before Wake did. CPCC chose to make everyone take several classes in each major area of specialization, but emphasized programming above anything else. This was institutionalized at state level, and we are required to follow it.

So we have non-programmers forced to take three programming classes, programmers taking some graphics classes, and lots of people taking physics who certainly don't need to. (Not that there's anything wrong with physics. I started out as a physics major, but it was boring, so I switched to something that involved people (history).)

What can you do if you cannot face taking these classes, or if you try and don't manage it? First, if you're going to drop out of any class, be sure you do so before the deadline at which a drop becomes a failure. (October 26 was the deadline this term.) Second, consider that in the game industry people are often hired for what they can do, not for what degree they have. If you cannot get a two-year SGD degree, there are diplomas (theoretically one year rather than two) that let you avoid some of the classes that might be more than you want to take on. Further, if you take the classes that are in your area of interest, do the necessary outside work, and manage to get hired, you don't need the degree just then, do you? For example, if you go through Game Design 1 and 2, and Level Design 1 and 2, you could end up with a level design job and never take programming. You would have to take at least one modeling class because it's a prerequisite, but modeling is much less likely to twist your brain than programming is. You'd be better off with a little programming, however; level designers often write scripts, which are simple programs. While this solution is not quite satisfactory to our department, it's the best available at this time.

I hope that we'll be able to work the degree to a better arrangement, but these things historically take years, not months.

Dr. P