Through grant funding from the Kresge Foundation, Arkansas is one of 15 states participating in Credit When It’s Due (CWID), a project designed to facilitate and improve reverse transfer processes. Since 2013, Arkansas identified more than 1,000 people who were eligible (or close to eligible) for an associate’s degree through reverse transfer. In addition, because of Arkansas’ low college degree attainment rates, the state decided to broaden its target audience beyond reverse transfer to all Arkansans near completion of an associate’s degree.
Building upon an already established and successful transfer infrastructure, the Arkansas CWID steering committee developed procedures to facilitate coordination among all 22 public colleges and 11 public universities. In addition, a comprehensive communications strategy was designed to reach the target audience and obtain consent for the exchange and review of transcripts.
The Arkansas Course Transfer System (ACTS) was established in 2006 in response to a state legislative mandate. Subsequently, the Arkansas Department of Higher Education coordinated a rigorous faculty review of all general education courses across the state to ensure they met the same educational objectives. As a result, hundreds of courses are guaranteed to transfer among all Arkansas public colleges and universities.
Based on these approved ACTS courses, through the CWID grant Arkansas identified more than 5,400 people who were at least 75% of the way to completion of an associate’s degree, meaning they earned at least 45 of the required 60 credit hours. The state embarked upon an aggressive outreach campaign known as “Degree Matters” that utilized television, radio, social media, email, and a series of letters and postcards mailed directly to the target audience.
A centralized, online consent portal was hosted on the “Degree Matters” website. Upon obtaining consent, the institution that awarded the majority of credits requested transcripts from other institutions and conducted a degree audit. All institutions followed a common protocol of communication to keep students informed of their status, including acknowledgement of consent and notice of the final outcome.
Despite the careful planning associated with CWID, similar to some other states involved in the initiative, the requirement of students to actively consent to the review and exchange of transcripts severely hampered the Arkansas project. While data collection and analysis are ongoing, fewer than 10% of the target audience has consented via the “Degree Matters” portal. To date, 115 Arkansans have been awarded associate’s degrees as a direct result of this initiative. Of those 115, 38 meet the definition of a reverse transfer degree and the other students were students who were eligible for a degree but had not transferred. The most common degree awarded is the Associate of Arts, followed by Associate of General Studies, Associate of Science, and Associate of Applied Science.
To date, 318 students are ineligible for an associate’s degree. The most common reason cited for ineligibility is insufficient grade point average at the majority institution. Other common reasons include lack of proper credit hours, failure to meet residency requirements, and financial account holds. The process of evaluating students for eligibility is continuing and will conclude by the summer of 2015.
Based on the Arkansas CWID experiment, a primary policy recommendation that has emerged is to incorporate opt-in consent for future exchange and review of transcripts into students’ initial admission applications. Extrapolating the 23% rate to the full target population, Arkansas missed an opportunity to gain more than 1,000 associate’s degree credentialed citizens through this initiative because the opt-in consent process required active approval of the student to participate. Arkansas can avoid this lost opportunity in the future by enhancing the capabilities of higher education institutions to transfer credits and award degrees to eligible students by integrating opt-in into admissions processes.
Collin Callaway is the Chief Operations Officer for the Arkansas Community Colleges where her primary responsibilities are project management, event coordination, communications and outreach, and government relations. Collin earned her bachelor’s in psychology from the University of Central Arkansas in 1997 and her master’s in social work from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 2000. She is currently working on her doctorate in adult and lifelong learning at the University of Arkansas.