Through decades of higher education evolution, credit transfer has been top of mind for policy makers, institutional leaders and students. From common course numbering to reverse transfer to broader pathways work, policy efforts and national initiatives have sought to ease the process of credit mobility to promote equitable outcomes, particularly for students from low-income backgrounds and persistently minoritized communities. Education Commission of the States and Sova recently conducted a landscape scan of national transfer reform efforts, priorities and outcomes for the Catalyzing Transfer Initiative funded by the ECMC Foundation. This initiative pulled together seven partner organizations actively seeking solutions to improve transfer outcomes to foster shared learning and collaboration.
The landscape scan reviewed national transfer initiatives over the past 10 years, including Project Win-Win (2009-2013), Credit When It’s Due (2013-2015), Interstate Passport (2016-present), Degrees When Due (2019-present) and Tackling Transfer (2019-present). Across these foundation-funded initiatives, credit reclamation and community college credit applicability in transfer are the dominant focus areas. As we conducted interviews with researchers, advocates and technical assistance providers associated with these initiatives, we heard again and again that the most important — and often underappreciated — key to boosting equitable outcomes in any transfer-improvement initiative is focused, long-term, relationship-driven coordination between multiple key stakeholders implicated in the transfer process. These can include policy makers, institution leaders, administrators, faculty and students.
We also examined broader approaches to pathways and portability to mine lessons. Guided pathways, math pathways and dual enrollment each play an integral role in lowering barriers to transfer student success, and the overarching lessons from these ongoing efforts — like the other specific credit-focused efforts — include the core necessity of long-term commitment across diverse stakeholder groups to the principled pursuit of structural and cultural change focused on the student experience. In addition to lessons of practice, we also explored transfer policies and procedures related to portability and learner agency, including prior learning assessments, competency-based education and incremental credentials (or credential stackability).
The leading portability efforts emphasize the infrastructure and policies that help institutions honor and acknowledge — as progress toward credential — multiple learning modalities and the demonstrated acquisition of learning from a wide range of settings. And just as with other transfer-improvement work, those involved in portability efforts stress the importance of attending to both the technical and adaptive challenges in policy and practice.