Credit When It’s Due Grantees to Convene During Year Two of Implementation

by Jason L. Taylor / Mar 26, 2014

This week in Atlanta, 15 states will convene to share lessons on their reverse transfer efforts. Credit When It’s Due (CWID) represents a collaborative venture of states and the Funders Collaborative including Lumina Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, USA Funds, The Helios Foundation, and the Greater Texas Foundation. In Fall 2012, the Funders Collaborative awarded grants to 12 states to design and scale reverse transfer programs and policies, and awarded grants to three additional states, Georgia, Tennessee, and Texas, in late 2013.

No doubt a lively discussion will ensue during the 2-day CWID convening in Atlanta, and at the end of the week, we will blog again to review what we and others learned. As the research partner for CWID, we want to understand how reverse transfer policies work in states and what impact these policies have on students, institutions, and states. Now after nearly 2 years of implementation, several states have conferred hundreds of associate’s degrees to students who earned credit when credit is due. To prepare for the convening, we partnered with the initial 12 states to develop profiles that describe CWID implementation as of March 2014, and these profiles will be released to the public via the OCCRL website in early April. Important aspects of state implementation are featured in the profiles, so let’s briefly review a selection of state implementation features and issues.

The Consent Gap

One hot topic for discussion in Atlanta is the need to obtain consent for students’ transcript to be exchanged or a degree to be conferred, a step that states identified as necessary to be FERPA-compliant. Most states have designed an “opt-in” consent process that requires students give active consent, but several states have reported anecdotally that 50% to 70% of students who are potentially eligible for an associate’s degree are either not responding to a consent offer or decline consent. How can states and institutions increase the consent response rate or completely reduce non-response? North Carolina is considering integrating consent into the university student portal so a pop-up window appears when students login to register for courses. Likewise, the University of South Florida plans to integrate consent into the transfer admissions application before a student transfers to the university.

The Role of Technology

The efficiency of reverse transfer depends to some extent on technology.  For example, Ohio and Oregon have centralized electronic transcript exchange systems and can bypass outdated methods of exchanging transcripts and move to exchanging transcript-level data quickly and easily. Colorado’s community college system’s technology allows the system to audit degrees centrally, and Hawai’i’s STAR cloud system operates in real-time, integrating all technology functions associated with reverse transfer including identifying eligible students, auditing degrees, and conferring degrees to eligible students. None of these systems was developed overnight but over several years and with much effort. Indeed, several states are using CWID grant funding to improve technology systems started pre-CWID and extend technology capabilities to support a reverse transfer function.

Course Articulation and Equivalencies

Establishing course equivalencies among institutions of higher education is an ongoing task in many states, and reverse transfer offers new opportunities for course transferability. In the reverse transfer context, community colleges are the receivers of university credits, including upper-division courses, that are needed to confer associate’s degrees, and many CWID states are considering new approaches to course articulation. For example, the University of Hawai’i system developed “global competencies” whereby upper-division university courses are articulated with lower-division community college courses based on the equivalency of course competencies. In North Carolina, the university and community college systems are “mapping” new course equivalencies to allow for greater transferability of university courses to the community college. And in Florida, for example, individual institutions are entertaining course substitutions and waivers not considered previously.

Integrate, Sustain, and Scale

Reverse transfer is a new idea in many states and only loosely integrated into higher education systems. For students, faculty, and staff, the idea of reverse transfer may be unclear, so some states are educating constituencies and training institutional staff about the purpose and benefits of reverse transfer.  Similarly, many states are changing state and institutional policy to sustain reverse transfer and ultimately scale it statewide. Approximately half of the 12 original CWID states have a legislative mandate referencing reverse transfer whereas a few others are sustaining and scaling without a legislative mandate. For example, over 100 MOUs have been signed among community colleges and universities in Michigan where legislation requires universities to partner with at least three community colleges for reverse transfer in order for the universities to receive performance-based funding.

By no means are these issues comprehensive, but they will likely generate discussion among convening participants. The jury is still out on the impact of reverse transfer, but does reverse transfer show promise for other states? What can we learn from these 15 states that might inform policy development in other states? We look forward to sharing more at the end of the week.

Jason L. Taylor is a postdoctoral research associate at OCCRL and is the project director for the CWID research team at OCCRL.