Navigating the “Great Divide”: Transfer policies across the states

Postsecondary & Workforce

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One-third of college students transfer to a different institution at least once in their college career. This statistic alone highlights the need to provide multiple pathways for students to successfully navigate higher education in the most efficient way. When I headed off to college I thought “I cannot wait to start my psychology courses as I am absolutely sure I will become a forensic psychologist.” Since you’re reading my blog about transfer policies you can guess that I did not follow that path. After painfully making it through two semesters of psychology courses I realized I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I fear many students have similar experiences and feel lost after freshman year. This could explain how typically students are transferring after their first year in college.  Students may also be trying to find the best place to achieve their goals or transferring because of financial burden, location of the school and academic needs.

The 50-state database released in late April highlights transfer policies states have  to help students move and keep credits they earned from one institution to another. These policies include transferable core of lower-division courses, statewide common course numbering, statewide guaranteed transfer of associate degree and reverse transfer. The database specifically counted states that have these policies in legislation or board policy and require all public institutions in the state to comply. As we know, governance structures vary from state to state so mandated policy is not always the route states take to help students with transfer. However, providing a mandated policy in which public institutions must comply can provide a blueprint for students to follow and complete a credential in a timely manner.

Transfer policies are increasing and evolving as the demographics of students in higher education shift. We continue to see many students enter higher education at the two-year level who then transfer to four-year institutions to earn a bachelor’s degree. We also have a large population of students typically referred to as “near-completers.” These students have earned some college credit but have left higher education before earning a credential of any kind. Reverse transfer is a trending transfer policy that could potentially benefit this student population greatly.

Reverse transfer policies aim to award associate degrees to individuals who have earned the required credits but were not awarded a credential due to transferring to a four-year institution before degree completion. Many of the state reverse transfer policies require students to have earned a certain amount of total credits, typically at least 65, as well as have met the residency requirement for an associate degree. Students also must have earned a certain amount of credits at their initial institution, typically 15 credit hours. If a student meets all of the requirements they can then be retroactively awarded an associate degree. Some states are targeting students currently enrolled in four-year institutions; however these policies could provide the greatest asset to students who left higher education before earning a credential. This “near-completer” population could increase their chances of gainful employment by earning an associate degree through reverse transfer policies.

Whether it be reverse transfer or other policies aimed at helping students re-enter higher education to earn a credential, states should invest in this increasing student population. With 65 percent of jobs requiring a credential by the year 2020, the need for a highly education workforce is a must.

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Assistant Director at Education Commission of the States |

In her role, Lexi oversees project management for Education Commission of the States' policy work. Lexi has more than 10 years of experience working as a higher education administrator and policy analyst, with the past five years focused on postsecondary transition policies. When Lexi is not immersed in the education policy world, she can be found running, skiing or exploring with her toddler in the mountains.

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