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Expanding Transfer Opportunities for Community College Students

The EvoLLLution | Expanding Transfer Opportunities for Community College Students
Institutional leaders at both two-year and four-year colleges have a great deal of work to do to maximize student transfer and increase the number of four-year degree holders.

Transfer has long been a focused goal and strategic priority for both two-year and four-year institutions in Kentucky. Over the years, well crafted articulation agreements have been developed that provide many opportunities for students to progress in their postsecondary journey, including joint admissions and dual enrollment.

The traditional transfer experience usually centers on what is delivered, how it is delivered, and where it is delivered. The journey is designed to lead to a destination that is value-added and increases students’ opportunities for successful credential attainment. Recent conversations among the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) two-year institutions have centered on new and renewed opportunities for students that include reverse transfer, applied baccalaureate options, and students graduating with AA/AS transfer degrees who do not transfer.

What have these conversations revealed?

1. We should encourage the development of more applied baccalaureate pathways for the associate of applied science graduates that extend learning in their field of study.

Approximately 45 percent of KCTCS students receive an associate of applied science (AAS) degree in a technical program of study. Yet, these students do not always have a pathway that extends their learning at the baccalaureate level. Of the students who earned an AAS degree at KCTCS during the 2013/14 year, 24 percent were enrolled at a four-year college or university by spring 2015 compared to 68 percent of those who earned an AA/AS. Students with an AAS in education, social/behavioral science, or arts and humanities were most likely to transfer. Those with an AAS in trades, health, business/communications, and STEM were least likely to transfer.

If four-year institutions develop seamless baccalaureate pathways that add depth to applied associate programs, the number of citizens with four-year degrees will increase, the upward mobility of incumbent workers will increase, and business and industry will benefit from a more broadly educated labor force. Efforts are underway to continue to develop career pathways that meet Kentucky’s five economic employment sectors, including manufacturing, business services/information technology, and health care.

2. We should encourage more collaborations with four-year institutions to award reverse transfer degree.

Several reverse transfer pilot programs are underway in Kentucky. In Fall 2013, the University of Louisville randomly selected 100 students to participate in a pilot rollout on reverse transfer with Jefferson Community and Technical College. From this initial effort, eleven associate degrees were conferred and the decision was made to continue and expand to all students. Several obstacles were identified in this initial effort that included financial aid holds, missing courses, resource constraints, transcript fees for non-National Student Clearinghouse institutions, and student and staff perceptions and confusion.

The benefits, however, were important. For students it meant receiving a value-added credential while furthering their studies. For the community colleges it meant increased college completion and success rates. For the community it meant enhanced partnerships between college and universities. The two-and four-year institutions continue to work on reverse transfer opportunities.

3. We should examine more closely students who are in a traditional transfer pathway program (AA and AS) who do not go on a baccalaureate program within five years.

More than half of the students who enroll in a KCTCS institution plan to transfer to a four-year program. As such, these students major in an Associate of Arts or an Associate in Science degree which are the designated transfer degrees. Upon further examination, however, over a five-year period only 66 percent of these students actually transferred to a four-year institution. Because the AA/AS degrees are designed for transfer, the applicability of these transfer degrees to jobs in the workforce is of great interest. Additionally, it is important to work with the four-year institutions regarding how best to reach these students and reconnect them to their original intent to complete a four-year degree.


In conclusion, the transfer mission is an important component of every community college. Among the KCTCS institutions, this mission is strong and well honed over years. As opportunities to continue to emerge, recent conversations have centered on applied baccalaureate pathways for AAS students, reverse transfer, and working with students who graduate with AA/AS degrees and do not transfer.

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