Transfer students lose 43% of credits, report finds

Nearly half of the credits that transfer students attempt to bring with them are not accepted by their new institution, Danielle Douglas-Gabriel reports for the Washington Post.

A report released last week by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) examined the challenges that students face when they transfer institutions. To produce the report, GAO researchers examined data on transfer students from the Department of Education's Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. They also conducted research interviews with 25 higher education organizations and institutions.

The researchers found that between 2004 and 2009, students who transferred institutions lost on average 43% of the credits they'd earned at their previous institution. That rate was even higher for students coming from for-profit colleges, who lost on average 94% of their credits when they transferred to a public institution. Those who transferred between public schools—which accounted for the majority of transfers—lost on average 37 percent of their credits.

Many of the students had either federal loans or Pell Grants, which means they would face limits on the number of semesters they'd be eligible for those types of financial aid. This could present a problem for transfer students who need to take extra semesters to graduate because of lost credits, Douglas-Gabriel writes.

In fact, saving money is the reason many transfer students begin higher education at community colleges before going to a four-year institution for a bachelor's degree, she writes. But, as the GAO report found, they often find that many of the credits they took at the community college—especially math and science credits—do not meet criteria set by their new institutions. Students then resort to taking courses at the new institution that they've already completed, which means additional money and time spent before they can finally earn their bachelor's degree.

The GAO recommended that schools be more transparent with students about their transfer policies. For example, if four-year institutions have transfer articulation agreements with local community colleges, they should make those details available on their website, the report suggests. However, GAO Acting Assistant Secretary Kathleen Smith expressed concerns that students who view the schools listed on those agreements may believe that those are the only institutions that will accept their credits, when in reality there may be many others.

In addition, the report suggested that the Department of Education and the Office of Federal Student Aid offer more details and tips about transferring institutions online via (Douglas-Gabriel, Washington Post, 9/13; GAO report, accessed 9/15).

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