Press Release: Thousands of college students could be eligible for an associate’s degree

by OCCRL / Oct 9, 2013

Research shows students transfer to bachelor’s program before getting associate’s degree

(CHAMPAIGN, Ill.) – Research released today suggests more than 27,000 transfer students would have been potentially eligible for an associate’s degree even though they had already matriculated to a bachelor’s program had “reverse transfer” policies and practices been operating in the states studied. According to baseline data compiled by the Office of Community College Research and Leadership (OCCRL), about half of the 27,000 students had no credential four years after transfer.

“This is important research because we don’t know very much about students who transfer to earn the bachelor’s degree without first getting the associate’s degree,” said Dr. Debra Bragg, one of the report authors and OCCRL director.

“We want to know whether a student’s college credits after transfer to the university can be applied toward an associate’s degree, which is important for both the student and the higher education system that enrolls the student.”

The research is associated with the Credit When It’s Due (CWID) initiative and is based on 12 states that received funding in 2012 to implement policies and practices that facilitate attainment of associate’s degrees after community college students transfer to a four-year college or university, a practice commonly identified by states as “reverse transfer.” More than 200 public community colleges and 100 public universities are participating in CWID in these 12 states.

“This baseline study highlights the substantial number of students transferring to four-year colleges and universities who could benefit from reverse transfer policies to award associate’s degrees,” said Holly Zanville, strategy director at Lumina Foundation for Education, one of five foundations supporting the national CWID initiative.

“The potential for awarding associate’s degrees to students who did not know these degrees were possible is important to the college completion agenda.”

Nationally representative data show that 78 percent of students who transfer from a community college to a university do so without an associate’s degree. The baseline study conducted by OCCRL examined outcomes for a Fall 2008 cohort of transfer students totaling 27,000 who transferred with no associate’s degree but who met minimum residency requirements needed to receive an associate’s degree from a community college. The purpose of the baseline study was to estimate how many students might have been eligible for a reverse transfer associate’s degree and the outcomes of these students had reverse transfer policies been operational in these states in Fall 2008. Results show that four years after transfer to the baccalaureate level 43 percent had no degree and only 8 percent had completed the associate’s degree, despite the fact that a large percentage—65 percent—transferred to the university with 45 or more college credits.

According to Bragg, “These results are not surprising since the baseline study captured the incidence of bachelor’s degree attainment prior to the introduction of reverse transfer policies. These results confirm that the pool of students who could benefit from reverse transfer policies is substantial.”

The baseline study also reviewed state policies and found that six of 12 states studied have legislative policy on reverse transfer.

“This research provided a baseline for what transfer looked like before CWID was implemented and will inform the next phase of our research where we examine what happens to students who were eligible for and received reverse transfer associate’s degrees after CWID was implemented,” Dr. Jason Taylor said, one of the report authors and OCCRL research associate.

“For example, does having an associate’s degree affect these students? Are they more likely to go on to earn a bachelor’s degree?”

The baseline report is available on the CWID website. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Lumina Foundation for Education fund CWID research at OCCRL. The other CWID funders are the Helios Education Foundation, Kresge Foundation and USA Funds.