Optimizing the Student Transfer Experience By Minimizing Credit Loss
Losing credits takes a toll on transfer students and their motivation to succeed. At the University of Phoenix, though, they’re taking steps to remedy this loss. In this interview, Devin Andrews reflects on the most common roadblocks standing in the way of academic credit transfer and shares her insights on the need for institutions to take responsibility for improving transfer processes for their students.
The EvoLLLution (Evo): From a four-year university perspective, what are some of the core challenges involved with accepting transfer credit?
Devin Andrews (DA): Our students are adult learners who often have transfer credit from a variety of sources. Out the gate, identifying all of the sources of credit a student may already have earned can be a challenge, and is critical to ensuring students take only the credits they truly need to complete their degree.
This may not seem like a huge hurdle, but figuring out all the places where credit may have been earned, and then figuring out how to get the transcripts or other documentation needed in order to actually transfer those credits can be a hard process to navigate. We work hard to take as much of the friction out of that process for our students throughout our admissions process. We also advocate for institutions to participate in electronic exchange of transcripts to help expedite this process for students. Once transcripts arrive, evaluating transfer credit must be done with an eye for optimizing a student’s path to graduation.
Evo: Your staff have to go through these transcripts and parse all this information to determine not only what a student has learned in the past, but what they might know from external sources, and then how that fits back into an established degree program at your institution. How do you make sure their work is done as efficiently as possible?
DA: Staff need to have the appropriate tools and resources to evaluate transfer credit both efficiently and consistently. Maintaining “living” resources over time can help ensure that we don’t spend time re-evaluating the same courses over and over again to determine creditworthiness. It also helps us ensure that we consistently apply credit for a particular transfer activity going forward.
Once a student’s transfer credit is applied, looking for other opportunities for credit such as alternative credit options and national testing programs may give her a faster and less expensive path to completing the program. A prior learning assessment (PLA) can also evaluate relevant experience for possible academic credit to help a student gets all the credit she has earned both through formal and informal learning. Adult learners bring a lot of experience with them when they enroll. Encouraging students to consider informal or non-academic learning such as training, certifications, and other work and life experiences may open the door to PLA options they didn’t know were available.
Evo: What would you say to a leader who doesn’t like the idea of creating transfer opportunities because it risks losing revenue from a student or losing that registration?
DA: Considering what is right for the student makes the solution very clear. Students don’t want to waste time retaking coursework due to transfer policies that are too rigid or restrictive. In addition, students today are likely to attend more than one institution, and this demands that we consider how best to serve transfer students.
Evo: How will University of Phoenix’s new alliance with Study.com help to overcome some of the roadblocks we’ve discussed to transfer acceptance?
DA:Having opportunities like our relationship with Study.com allows us to offer students more options for completing their program. Adult learns generally want the quickest path to graduation. Once we evaluate and apply transfer credit or other credit from prior learning, they may have additional gaps to fill in terms of general education. While we can offer students these courses, we can also allow students to explore alternative credit providers like Study.com.
With Study.com, students can access more than 150 courses that can be transferred back to University of Phoenix based on credit recommendations from the American Council on Education. This option is most commonly used for general education or elective credits, and can potentially save students both time and money.
Evo: What does it take to create a true institutional commitment to transfer?
DA: I think this is easy if your culture is also focused on doing what’s right for your students. Understanding who your students are and what their needs are should drive decisions about how best to serve them. Once you know the student profile of an adult learner, it would really be foolish not to have a commitment to transfer.
It is important to understand that decisions to accept transfer credit are always at the discretion of the receiving institution. Institutions should define policies and procedures that align with their mission, and that meet the needs of their students. Understanding what students need first can fundamentally shift thinking about how we design programs, create policies and approach transfer credit. Creating programs that align well with associate degree programs, for example, can help students from community colleges more seamlessly transition into a bachelor’s degree program.
At University of Phoenix, our enrollment representatives and academic counselors talk with students about transfer and PLA options. Academic counselors have touchpoints throughout the program, and may even recommend alternative credit options to a student who is close to graduation but still has some electives to complete. We want to help our students minimize the time and money they spend completing a degree program by ensuring they utilize all of the credit they’ve earned to the best of our ability, whether it is transfer credit, alternative credit, or credit via prior learning assessment.
So, I would encourage institutions to look at transfer, alternative credit options, and prior learning assessment as ways to meet students where they are, and to help them find the right path to achieving their educational goals.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Author Perspective: Administrator