4 benefits of reverse transfer programs

As the pool of traditional prospective students plateaus, a growing number of admissions directors focus on increasing their recruitment of transfers and students older than 24.

In the race to recruit these students, many colleges and universities are working to create a transfer-friendly culture.

Reverse transfer programs, which retroactively award eligible transfer students with an associate degree, represent one strategy states and colleges are adopting to boost transfer student success, Jon Marcus writes for the Hechinger Report.

In conversation with campus leaders, Marcus highlights four benefits of a reverse transfer program for students, states, and schools.

1: Higher salaries

Students who have an associate degree earn $200,000 more over their lifetimes than those who only have some college credit—and up to $400,000 more than those who only have a high school diploma, according to a report from Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce.  

An associate degree can also help students stand out in the post-graduation job search, Marcus writes.

2: Motivation

Students who retroactively receive an associate degree through a reverse transfer program are up to 18% more likely to earn a bachelor's degree than their eligible classmates who skip the associate degree, reports Marcus.

Many transfer students have been in school for a while, says Jason Taylor, an assistant professor of higher education at the University of Utah. Students who retroactively receive an associate degree may feel a confidence boost that build their momentum to persist through a four-year degree, he adds.

Recapturing revenues through re-recruitment

3: Economic development

In the race to attract employers, many states are establishing reverse transfer programs to increase the proportion of their population with degrees, Marcus reports.

In the last five years alone, 17 states with reverse transfer programs have awarded about 20,000 associate degrees, according to a report from the Institute for Higher Education Policy. But this is only a small fraction of the two million students who are eligible for a reverse transfer associate degree, according to an estimate from the National Student Clearinghouse.

4: Partnership opportunities

New state funding policies are rewarding public institutions for producing more graduates, Marcus writes. And many institutions now understand that encouraging transfer students to persist through a bachelor's degree may require rewarding them for the work they've put in along the way, he adds.

How two schools are reducing transfer student credit loss

Often, supporting transfer students means establishing partnerships between institutions.

For example, El Paso Community College and the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) jointly monitor transfer student progress towards an associate degree, Marcus writes. Students who have earned enough credits can collect the degree at a community college graduation ceremony, he notes.

Together, these two schools have awarded more than 2,000 degrees. Students who are retroactively awarded an associate degree "get really energized," says Gary Edens, UTEP's vice president for student affairs.

The challenges that lie ahead

In a reverse transfer program, students, states, and institutions stand to win, but there are roadblocks that lie ahead, Marcus writes.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office recently reported that students lose nearly half of their college credits when transferring from one school to another. And as reverse transfer programs differ between institutions and states, loss of transfer students' credit hours confounds efforts to recruit and graduate this increasingly desirable student population, writes Scott Booth, a transfer student researcher at EAB.

But at the student level, the importance of a reverse transfer program is clear. When Bismarck State College (BSC) notified Matthew White, now a senior at the University of North Dakota, that he had earned two associate degrees during his time at BSC, he says he first thought it was a scam, but then felt rewarded. White, the first person in North Dakota to benefit from a reverse transfer, says the credentials made him feel like he had "accomplished something" on the way to his bachelor's degree.

How to guarantee transfer students will reject you

Cultivating this sense of accomplishment is one way higher ed can encourage students to persist, says Sue Ellspermann, the president of Ivy Tech Community College. And these students deserve to receive the degree they've earned, she says (Marcus, the Hechinger Report, 10/16).

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