A new data-supported initiative known as Reverse Transfer could award up to two million students associate degrees.

reverse-transfer-degreesThe University of Texas at Austin is leading a national initiative with other top universities and the National Student Clearinghouse to help transfer students earn associate degrees for coursework they complete through Reverse Transfer, the first national service to award degrees to students after they transfer to a four-year university.

Earning an associate degree can provide a major morale boost, as research shows that students who have received one are more likely to complete their undergraduate education. Earning the degree also improves employment opportunities for those who attended a four-year university, even if they did not finish.

The project has the potential to award up to two million students associate degrees, which represents 78 percent of students who transferred from a community college to a four-year institution without a degree.

Essentially, reverse transfer of credits takes place when a four-year institution retroactively transfers student credits back to any two-year institution from which a student has transferred. It does not matter if the student transferred to another associate degree program or four-year university first, attended public or private institutions, or transferred across state lines.

Colleges are also able to identify and reach out to students who are a few credits short of receiving their associate degrees in order to encourage them to complete the necessary coursework.

“Most of our transfer students come from Austin Community College, and it’s important we make sure they receive a degree for the work they have earned,” said Shelby Stanfield, vice provost and registrar at UT Austin. “We know students who are awarded their associate degrees are more likely to earn an undergraduate degree and have greater earning power when they graduate. This is going to help students here on our campus today and across Texas.”

(Next page: The tech and legislation behind Reverse Transfer)

The tech and process

The National Student Clearinghouse’s Reverse Transfer Project is a standardized, streamlined, and tech-enhanced process to enable four- and two-year institutions to transfer student credits thanks to new possibilities in data storage capacity and data analytics, notes the project’s website. Currently, the Clearinghouse says it is the largest education electronic data exchange service provider, performing more than one billion exchanges annually with its over 3,600 participating institutions. There will be no fees for Reverse Transfer service.

“The data capacity of the Clearinghouse will allow institutions to assist students who have transferred…Institutions will now have better data to conduct degree audits on students’ accumulated records and students will have recognition for achieveing their associate degrees,” said Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of the Lumina Foundation in a statement.

According to the Project’s website, the Project will be developed in three phases:

1. Awarding the academic achievement of eligible students: The student provides consent for academic records to be shared for reverse transfer degree evaluation. The student then reaches a specified number of credit hours (indicating eligibility for an associate degree). The four-year institution sends the academic file to the Clearinghouse, and the Clearinghouse alerts the appropriate two-year institution(s) that the record is available for downloading. The two-year institutions can now download all records from all four-year institutions to which their students have transferred, for consideration of a reverse transfer degree. Currently, the Clearinghouse is working with institutions in Missouri, Texas, and Wisconsin on phase one development.

2. Enabling improved data transparency and accuracy: Students will be able to access all of their information directly through the Clearinghouse. If a student wishes to dispute information, the Clearinghouse will direct them to the appropriate party at his/her institution to resolve any perceived discrepancies, as required by FERPA. The Clearinghouse plans to roll out a nationwide data mart to enable enrollment records to be cross-checked against the student’s academic records to ensure greater data accuracy.

3. Pre-degree audits: Based on information provided by the colleges, pre-degree audits on student’s eligibility will be able to be conducted prior to notifying two-year institutions. Only files for students who appear to be close to completion will be downloaded.

The legislation

Reverse Transfer was made possible in Texas thanks to legislation passed this year by the Texas Legislature which authorized Texas institutions to share information with the National Student Clearinghouse. The Clearinghouse then automates the data exchange between four-year universities and community colleges across the country at no cost to the states.

“I am delighted that my legislation will help Texas universities and community colleges reduce costs and promote degree completion by allowing them to participate in the National Student Clearinghouse,” said state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, who authored the bill. “What’s more, leveraging this technologically-enhanced platform will facilitate the awarding of associate degrees to more eligible students, thereby helping them achieve their higher education goals.”

UT Austin, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Missouri helped develop, pilot and raise funding for the new Reverse Transfer service offered by the National Student Clearinghouse. The service is funded by grants, as well as financial contributions from several major universities.

Thus far, 3,600 institutions are participating in the National Student Clearinghouse’s Reverse Transfer program. Many states including Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee are developing programs already, with more expected to follow suit thanks to the encouragement of the Correctly Recognizing Educational Achievements To Empower (CREATE) Graduates Act legislation.

“The Clearinghouse Reverse Transfer project is a major step in improving higher education outcomes, which will benefit us as a nation,” concluded Dr. Walter G. Bumphus, president and CEO of the American Association for Community Colleges. “More students will get the degrees they deserve. Community colleges will be recognized for the value they add to education. And–by granting more degrees–states will be better positioned to attract new business.”

For more information on Reverse Transfer, click here. To watch a video on how the Project works, click here.


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