Successful State Reverse Transfer Policies Indicate Best Practices, Policy Brief States

Quick Takeaways:

  • States that have reverse transfer policies are seeing success in awarding associate degrees to students who have earned them.
  • Though the policies and implementation vary by state, there are several common factors including policy oversight, technology, and funding.
  • States should look to target students with some credit but no degree to increase the reach of their reverse transfer policies.

By Brittany Hackett, Communications Staff

While the efficacy of reverse transfer policies vary among states that have them, early data show that such policies are helping states to confer additional associate degrees to students who have some college credit but no degree, according to a policy brief from the Education Commission of the States (ECS).

The brief, the final in a three-part series on state reverse transfer policies, examines early outcomes data for 10 states that have such policies in place and offers recommendations for states looking to implement such policies. For the purpose of the brief, ECS defines reverse transfer as “the process of retroactively granting associate degrees to students who have not completed the requirements of an associate degree before they transferred from a two- to a four-year institution.”

The brief uses the implementation and outcomes of reverse transfer policies from 10 states – Colorado, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Texas – as the basis for their recommendations. While the early outcomes data remains incomplete, ECS said in the brief that “states are finding ways” to award associate degrees to students who have earned them but may not have been aware of the accomplishment. For example, Michigan’s reverse transfer policy has resulted in 979 associate degrees conferred, the most of the 10 states included in the brief.

In the brief, ECS expands their analysis of four key strategies of successful reverse transfer policies that were outlined in more detail in the second brief of the series to provide recommendations to states looking to create their own policies. First, states that enact reverse transfer policies should identify an entity to provide oversight for implementation and compliance of the policy.

While the chosen entities can vary, the responsibilities could include things like implementation timeline, allocation of funding, student identification methods, marketing, and the use of technology. ECS suggests that policymakers take into account several factors when selecting an oversight entity, including selecting a state department or university system to provide oversight in the case of a centralized system. Missouri, for example, created a centralized steering committee and four working groups to implement the state’s reverse transfer policy, which has conferred 189 degrees so far.

When considering the technology piece of a reverse transfer policy, state policymakers should ensure that institutions have “clear communication” about the technology used for transcript data, as well as ways multiple technologies can be integrated. ECS also recommends that a single-source transcript exchange be used to “ease administrative lift and technology integration between institutions.” A semi-automated degree audit process is used in Tennessee, which allows four-year institutions to send program requirements and other information to two-year institutions for review. Tennessee has awarded 341 degrees through its reverse transfer program.

Funding “can be an integral part” of producing successful reverse transfer policies, and states should consider the number of students who will be impacted by the policy “to better understand the total financial need,” according to ECS. States should also encourage the inclusion of funding in the legislation before implementation to ensure it exists, as well as looking into low-cost implementation strategies if funding is not included in the legislation, and take advantage of free resources like the Clearinghouse Reverse Transfer project.

In the early stages of the implementation process for a reverse transfer policy, it is important to understand the number of students the policy will likely impact. Furthermore, it is “critical” that states know the population of students they are trying identify and the capacity state institutions have to serve those students, ECS said. To that end, it is important that the student identification piece of a reverse transfer policy include clear communication between two- and four-year institutions and complete and accessible records of student transfers from one school-type to another. Policies should also include eligibility requirements that make it easy to identify eligible students and highly visible marketing campaigns to explain the process and eligibility requirements to students.

Other factors that need to be considered include the value of an associate degree in the state’s workforce, alternative ways to incorporate reverse transfer policies into institutions in the event that passing a statewide policy is not a priority, and ways to target students with some credit but no degree, as many students could meet eligibility requirements.

Overall, the series on state reverse transfer policies “uncovered multiple implementation strategies and exemplar practices states looking to enact legislation can use in the future,” ECS said in the brief. “As this topic is still in its infancy, further research will provide insight into how sustainable these policies are and how increasing associate degree completion can enhance the workforce and future bachelor’s degree completion rates.”


Publication Date: 9/24/2015

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