How Transfers Affect Funding — and What Colleges Can Do About It

How Transfers Affect Funding — and What Colleges Can Do About It

By Ellen Ullman

Reverse transfer offers a solution for students and institutions.

More than one-third of the nearly 3.6 million students who entered college in the fall of 2008 transferred to a different school at least once by the summer of 2014, according to a report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

The report, Transfer & Mobility: A National View of Student Movement in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2008 Cohort, found that 24 percent of students who started at a community college in 2008 transferred to a four-year institution; of that 24 percent, seven out of eight students left community college without completing an associate degree.

“Through this report and others, we’ve been looking more and more at how students are taking different pathways to their educational goals,” says David Pelham, vice president of higher education development and client relations at the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC). “We have to figure out a way to legitimately recognize the learning these students have demonstrated. Reverse transfer lets us do that.”

Defining “reverse transfer”

Reverse transfer allows two- and four-year institutions to securely send course and grade information to any two-year institution from which a student has transferred. In the past, there wasn’t a reliable process to acknowledge the academic achievement of students who take nontraditional paths.

Reverse transfer acknowledges the learning a student has accomplished, and research shows that having an associate degree gives students a tremendous boost in terms of earning potential.

Reverse transfer also gives community colleges another way to document their value. “When I was a community college administrator, people would measure outcome- or performance-based funding by the number of degrees completed. But when you look at the fact that four out of five students who transfer don’t complete the degree, we have to figure out what to do with those students,” Pelham says.

How reverse transfer helps everyone

Most outcome-based funding systems measure, at least in part, how well colleges prepare students to transfer. Reverse transfer will help to increase the number of degrees so that community colleges will get the funding they deserve.

To help colleges handle the complexities of reverse transfer, NSC developed a Reverse Transfer Platform. It’s the first automated solution that lets institutions transfer course and grade data from a four- or two-year institution to any two-year institution in order to award associate degrees to eligible students.

“As we developed a national solution, we wanted it to be flexible enough to deal with different approaches and requirements,” Pelham says. “I believe we will continue to see more states enact requirements and see activity in states who are interested in getting their systems in place before legislation requires them to do so. At a recent conference I attended, there were half a dozen panels on reverse transfer.”

Find out more about NSC’s Reverse Transfer Platform.

The necessity of reverse transfer

Pelham believes we need to create a way of acknowledging, for instance, a student who transferred from a community college to a four-year school and didn’t take Freshmen Composition 1 and 2 but passed other English classes that required significant writing. If that student demonstrates the writing abilities that Freshmen Composition 1 and 2 are designed to teach — either through a test or a writing sample — the student should be able to get the credits.

Twenty years ago, when articulation agreements were being formed, if a university didn’t offer a class that the community college did, the student would not receive credit. Many times, students transfer to a four-year school and have to repeat a class (sometimes using the same textbook) because the four-year school calls it by a different name. “I want leaders to ask: ‘Does this class indicate that a student has the knowledge and skill to count as equivalent?’ ”

Ellen Ullman

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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