Five reflections from the CWID Convening

by Debra Bragg and Jason L. Taylor / Apr 2, 2014

In an OCCRL blog posted last week, Jason Taylor promised to highlight what we learned from the Credit When It’s Due (CWID) Convening in Atlanta. We have to admit that our heads are still spinning, but a few ideas have risen to the top that we’d like to share with you right away.  Five major themes that emerged from the Convening resonated with us as we consider the next phase of OCCRL’s research on reverse transfer.

#1: State Context

Consensus emerged among the more than 60 CWID Convening participants that the state policy context matters to reverse transfer. Factors such as state leadership, governance vs. coordination, and funding influence the scope, pace, and timing of implementation activities. Other factors include state transfer and articulation initiatives, college completion goals, and performance-based funding. Many participants observed that the higher education landscape is crowded with reforms, which influences where reverse transfer fits in the state reform agenda. These conversations reinforced the importance of OCCRL studying the state policy landscape that may influence implementation of reverse transfer.


Student consent is necessary under reverse transfer because students’ transcripts need to be exchanged across institutions; thus, FERPA must be addressed. The good news is that lessons learned through CWID are enabling states to reach students earlier in their college experiences, including during initial college admission; the bad news is that now, during the initial implementation of CWID when students have already matriculated from community colleges to universities, finding students to get consent is very tough. Student response rates to college/university outreach vary widely by state, from less than 10% to around 50%. All states report struggling with this issue, no matter the student response rate. A breakthrough may come when the U.S. Department of Education offers guidelines for reverse transfer, but the timeline is unclear.  For CWID states, guidance cannot come fast enough, and OCCRL will play a role in sharing scenarios that help the Department of Education build guidance for the field.

#3: Technology Solutions

Technology is a very big deal with CWID.  From the act of communicating with students, to sharing academic records, to performing degree audits, to conferring degrees, technology solutions are being applied by states, and states vary in their investments. Many leaders of CWID states observe that technology vendors offer a range of solutions, but there are uncertainties if the technology will solve the problem, what it will cost, and whether it is worth the investment. There were questions about what value technology will add to the system for reverse transfer but also for other higher education reforms that states are addressing.  Thus, what are the technology solutions worth to the entire system?  As noted, CWID funds can be used for experimentation with technology solutions, and several states are engaged in implementation. Research to understand the use and impact of technology is needed, including return on investment, and OCCRL is eager to partner with states to engage in this work.

#4: Sustainability

The Funders Collaborative funded states to make long-term changes to higher education systems to identify and confer reverse transfer degrees, and presumably help students to move on to additional education or employment. The changes prompted by the CWID grants are expected to identify students who are eligible and qualified for associate’s degrees now and into the future.  Moving forward, there also appears to be a strong interest among the CWID states to use reverse transfer to increase the state’s college degree completion overall and to understand how reverse transfer associate’s degrees may impact students’ education and employment outcomes longitudinally. Answers to questions about the benefits of CWID implementation in the short-term as well as the long-term are a very important component of OCCRL’s research agenda.

#5: The Value of the Associate’s Degree?

The value of the associate’s degree is not universally understood, but it is an important question for CWID. It is critical that institutions, legislators, the public, and especially students and parents, understand the social and economic benefits of any college degree, and in this case the associate’s degree.  Along these lines, we see CWID states marketing reverse transfer opportunities to students in their higher education system, including state campaigns to communicate the purpose of reverse transfer degrees and the potential significance of receiving an associate’s degree to students.  OCCRL’s agenda includes qualitative data (impressions, perceptions, opinions) about the value of the associate’s degree as well as initial studies of the benefits of reverse transfer to students’ degree completion.

We encourage you to share your thoughts on our blog and to look at the Twitter conversation about CWID using the hashtags #creditwhenitsdue or #reversetransfer. What do you think of CWID?  What research is needed? Please share your thoughts.

Debra Bragg is the OCCRL director and a Gutgsell endowed professor at Illinois who researches transition to college by youth and adults, especially student populations that have not attended college historically.

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