College Grad Rates Get Boost from ‘Reverse Transfer’ Big Education Program

Under a new “reverse transfer” program, two million students could be eligible to retroactively receive associate’s degrees. Community colleges are a pathway into four-year universities but it seems many students transfer from two-year to four-year institutions without first completing their associate’s degrees.

For varying reasons, many of these students drop out of college and find themselves with nothing in hand but a student loan payment. Students say this happens because life gets in the way.

According to the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC), up to two million students nationwide are affected and are eligible for a trending college and career ready program called reverse transfer. The program is named for transfer students who can retroactively receive a two-year associate’s degree from the four-year university they currently attend.

The main goal of the sub-baccalaureate two-year certificate program is to boost college completion rates. U.S. News and World Report underscored that reverse transfer raises the graduation rate of the community college. This is an increasingly important indicator “as more government officials push to tie funding to performance, and it increases the likelihood students will graduate from the four-year institution.”

The American Association of Community Colleges’ (AACC) national  call-to-action fuels reverse transfers.

The Lone Star state “pushed” for reverse transfer system since 2011, according to the Texas Tribune. This year, the Texas Legislature passed the system through Senate Bill 1714 from Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo). In 2014, U.S. Senators Kay Hagan (D-NC) and Tom Harkin (D-IA) authored the Correctly Recognizing Educational Achievements to Empower (CREATE) Graduates Act legislation to encourage states to establish reverse transfer programs and/or build on existing grant-funded pilot programs in fifteen states.

The University of Texas (UT) says almost 270,000 Texas students are candidates for the transferred down associate’s degrees. UT-Austin announced this week that it will implement the reverse transfer safety net.

The NCS website lists UT-Austin, Stanford University, University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Missouri, Lone Star College System, Ohio State University, University of Maryland, University of Arizona, University of Kansas and the University of Minnesota as helping to develop, pilot and raise funding for reverse transfer.

“Lone Star College is thrilled to have a national solution to receive and process reverse transfer transcripts,” Connie Garrick, Lone Star College System Director of Records and Enrollment Services/Registrar, told the NCS. “Not only does the National Student Clearinghouse solution cross state boundaries, but it also expedites the process of evaluating the transcripts, executing the degree audits, and awarding the degrees – all leading to increased student completion.”

Also according to the Tribune, UT-Austin Registrar Shelby Stanfield said the goal is that reverse transfer is used by as many schools in Texas and nationwide as possible. Stanfield championed reverse transfer.

“The University of Texas at Austin strives to improve higher education access and resources to support student success, so more students earn high-quality degrees and enter the workforce prepared to succeed as global citizens,” Shelby Stanfield, Vice Provost and Registrar at the University of Texas at Austin, told the NCS. “This is why UT Austin is actively involved with leading reverse transfer initiatives, including this new national data exchange platform.”

Proponents promote it as an educational opportunity. In 2012, Janet Marling, director of the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students at the University of North Texas, spun the downgraded college credential as a “student centric” means to help students understand the importance of an often-overlooked associate degree milestone.

Conversely, University of Illinois postdoctoral research associate Jason Taylor told the Times Free Press last year that critics of this program see it as just handing out credentials. He said it could even work as an incentive to quit working toward a bachelor’s once the associate’s degree is in hand since it can have value in the labor market.

The Times Free Press likened the higher education trend as going “after the low-hanging fruit of people already well on their way to earning some type of degree.”

A student with at least 45 of the 60 required junior college credits may be eligible for an associate’s degree from a four-year university. It does not matter whether the student attends public or private institutions or travels across state lines.

Reverse transfer administrative services are free to students but the program is paid for through grant money. In 2014, the Lumina Foundation funded the NSC. The latter touts itself the largest education electronic data exchange service provider. It performs more than one billion exchanges annually with its over 3,600 participating institutions.

The Chronicle of Higher Education called the Lumina Foundation, like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, another “key another key player in the college-reform movement and the largest private foundation devoted solely to higher education.”

A 2013 Chronicle analysis revealed that since 2006, Gates spent $472-million to remake U.S. higher education — $343-million of that since January 2008 when he announced a new focus on helping low-income students earn credentials. Lumina spent a little more than half that amount over the same period on a similar agenda.

Besides Lumina, the other major funding partners are the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Greater Texas Foundation, Helios Foundation, Kresge Foundation, and USA Funds.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the primary private backer of the Common Core standards; with Helios Education Foundation and Lumina Foundation, they are the founding members of the Common Core Communications Collaborative (CCCC), according to the Heartland Institute.

One of Gates’ CCCC’s goals is to reach “K-12 educators, parents, policy makers, higher education leaders and other key audiences,” the conservative think tank points out.

USA Funds support mayor-led college and career ready grants nationwide.  Breitbart Texas reported these two-year career and technical education (CTE) dollars cultivate what is called “middle skill” workforce ready jobs. USA Funds run through the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL), a U.S. Education Department program.

The route from community college to major university existed before reverse transfer as a “2+2” where students completed two years and received an associate’s degree first. Sometimes the two-year college is called a “feeder” school because the associate credentials are readily put towards a bachelor’s degree by certain four-year institutions. A “2+2” also brings down the overall price tag of a four-year degree since junior colleges are far less expensive than universities.

It is not clear why students are transferring from two-year to four year colleges before completing their associate’s degrees. Interestingly, the NSC found that over sixty percent of all students transferring from two-year colleges completed their four-year degrees and Inside Higher Ed is not convinced reverse transfer is the result of undermatching, a theory which suggests “prepared but disadvantaged students” are less likely to complete a four-year degree.

It is clear that those players who are involved in higher education and despite insurmountable college loan debt, the push for college degrees and/or other professional accreditation moves on.

Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.


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