Tennessee’s Semi-Automated Approach to Reverse Transfer

by Gloria Gammell / Jun 27, 2014

Three new states joined the CWID initiative in January 2014—Georgia, Tennessee, and Texas. OCCRL asked Gloria Gammell, Tennessee’s CWID Project Coordinator, to blog about Tennessee’s CWID project goals and reflections on the initiative thus far.

In January 2014, Tennessee’s higher education community, involving every public and a range of private institutions in the state, received a grant to support a reverse transfer collaboration that has the potential to benefit approximately 1,300 transfer students each year, once fully implemented in spring 2015.

With 13 community colleges and 18 participating four-year institutions, implementation of Tennessee’s “Credit When It’s Due” reverse transfer initiative includes some interesting challenges, such as multiple student information systems and navigating the performance-based funding system. However, participating institutions have agreed on the following common goals:

  • To increase the educational attainment of Tennessee’s citizens by 2,600 reverse transfer associate degrees during the grant period
  • To develop and implement an automated reverse transfer credit-review system with:
    • Seamless access and user-friendly interfaces at all participating institutions
    • Ability to exchange course completion data across multiple systems
    • Ability to solicit student opt-in consent and facilitate automated degree audits against preloaded degree pathways
    • Ability to extract course- and credit-level aggregate data and reports

In 2012, a statewide taskforce was formed to oversee the development and successful implementation of Tennessee’s Reverse Transfer initiative.  In May 2014, AcademyOne was selected through a competitive bid process to develop the reverse transfer software solution (RTS).  Four-year institutions will identify those students who meet the eligibility criteria for reverse transfer twice a year.  The RTS will match consenting students (opt-in) against the 49 preloaded common transfer degree pathways using student course histories.  The RTS will provide each community college with a batch report of students determined to be “close” to meeting degree requirements for a transfer pathway degree; community colleges will then either confer the degree or notify the student of any outstanding requirements needed to complete the degree.

Participating institutions are in the process of pulling course inventories and course equivalencies, which includes identifying all courses that fall under general education subject categories. These subject categories often allow a student to select two or more courses from a list that will satisfy that general education subject category requirement.

Tennessee is preparing to implement a pilot run of the RTS in early September 2014. Three community colleges will pair with 3 four-year institutions representing the University of Tennessee system, the Tennessee Board of Regents, and the Tennessee Independent Colleges and University Association.  The pilot institutions will incentivize students to consent to participate in reverse transfer, and those students who consent will receive either a gift card or priority registration for spring 2015.

Based on our experience so far, considerations or tips for states and/or institutions contemplating reverse transfer include:

  • Reverse transfer may be a much more complex initiative to develop and implement than you likely think.  “Exceptions” and “caveats” across the spectrum of degrees and general education requirements are common.
  • Continued and honest communication with key personnel (registrars from the participating institutions, IT staff, the vendor, system level administrators, legislators, and the statewide taskforce) is essential.  Invite yourself to meetings to explain the process and share progress updates.
  • Ensure that staff is dedicated to the initiative, if at all possible.  Tennessee’s CWID proposal included a project coordinator (me) and a community college liaison (Brenda Rector, who is also a community college registrar).  We are devoting many clock hours on the front end of this project and believe that having staff dedicated to coordinating the initiative is essential to the success of our reverse transfer effort.
  • Ask CWID recipients and OCCRL for assistance.  All are accessible and knowledgeable—together, they are your greatest resource!
  • Don’t lose sight of the end goal: the students.

We are indebted to our funder, the Lumina Foundation, the Tennessee legislature and the other 12 original states that received a CWID grant.  We have much work ahead, but are looking to the day when we graduate our first reverse transfer students!


Gloria Gammell, Ed.D., is a program manager in the Office of Academic Affairs and Student Success, University of Tennessee and serves as Tennessee’s CWID project coordinator.