Do We Need a National Dialogue on 'Reverse Transfer'?

by Debra Bragg / Mar 28, 2013

Last week, OCCRL researchers participated in a Convening held at Lumina Foundation in Indianapolis, Indiana that brought together funders (Lumina, Kresge, Bill & Melinda Gates, Helios, and USA Funds), along with state officials, researchers and guests concerning the new Credit When It’s Due (CWID) Initiative. Designed to contribute to the nation’s college completion agenda, CWID encourages states and/or institutions to award associate’sdegrees to students who transition to four-year colleges and universities without receiving these degrees upon exiting the community college. Called “reverse transfer” by the funders and state policy makers, CWID seeks to ensure that students who have earned sufficient course credits to receive an associate degree along the way to a bachelor’s degree receive this midpoint credential. Twelve states (Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Oregon, New York, and North Carolina) have received foundation funds for CWID, but other states (Texas, for example) are engaging independently in CWID-type activity, suggesting efforts to re-think transfer may be growing nationally. Given the mixed results of transfer for many students, particularly minority and other underserved students (see, for example, Dougherty, 1994; Melguizo & Dowd, 2009), a renewed focus on transfer could be a very important development.

Placing CWID into this larger context, many ideas related to improving transfer were exchanged during the Convening but none stood out more clearly than the potential of state and institutional activities associated with CWID to reveal gaps and barriers in the current transfer system that impede student credentialing and completion. From this perspective, the ultimate benefit of CWID may go beyond awarding students “reverse transfer” associate’s degrees to improving transfer opportunities so that more students earn associate’s degrees en route to the bachelor’s degrees. If CWID improves transfer pathways for students from the get-go, the roadblocks that students face in attempting to navigate between community colleges and universities will be rectified, and more students will earn credentials as they matriculate from community college to the university. From this vantage point, the potential benefit of CWID is not merely in the credentialing function that it intends to improve – which is no small matter, of course – but in the potential of CWID to have larger and longer-term effects on transfer overall.   

What do you think? Do you think CWID and “reverse transfer” may stimulate renewed focus on  transfer nationally? Is a larger, national conversation on transfer needed? Please share your thoughts, questions and concerns.


Dougherty, K. (1994). The contradictory college.  Albany, NY: SUNY Press.