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Identifying and Overcoming Three Obstacles to Robust Reverse Transfer

The EvoLLLution | Identifying and Overcoming Three Obstacles to Robust Reverse Transfer
The workforce needs more degree holders. Though thousands of learners have completed the requirements for degrees, without robust reverse transfer policies those individuals will remain without a credential.

The numbers speak for themselves. 65 percent of workforce jobs will require postsecondary education by 2020, yet we face a shortage of five million workers to fill them. One big step towards filling that gap exists in the 31 million working-age Americans who have completed some college credits but never earned—or were never awarded—a degree.

The Colorado Community College System (CCCS) is trying to address this shortfall by making sure that more students who have completed the credit requirements to earn an associate’s degree are awarded one. In many cases, students begin at a community college, earn a substantial number of credits, transfer to a four-year institution, and drop out without anything to show for their work. This, despite the fact that many learners may have enough credits, or almost enough credits, to have earned an associate’s degree.

In Colorado alone, there are well over 600,000 people who have some college credits, no degree, and are not enrolled in college. That’s why we need to develop a strong, streamlined reversetransfer process.

While it is commonly known that information about eligible credits is freely shared from two-year institutions to four-year institutions when a transfer is made, most don’t appreciate the benefits of sharing this information in the reverse. When information is shared from the four-year institution back to the two-year institution, it may be discovered that a student has earned enough credits, or close to enough credits, to warrant the awarding of an associate’s degree.

For those who intended to finish their bachelor’s degree but never quite got there, this can be life-changing.

According to a study by the National Student Clearinghouse, which tracked students who started their postsecondary education during the fall of 2011, 38% of students transferred from two-year to four-year institutions at some point in their college career. Of this group, an average of only 42.2% successfully completed their bachelor’s degree. Most of those students would find their employment and earnings prospects drastically improved if they could claim an associate’s degree. Our goal is to make that possible.

In order to increase the number of students receiving degrees through the reverse transfer process, there are three areas in which obstacles will need to be addressed:


Due to current requirements under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) that restrict the sharing of personal information, a student must first agree to have his or her information shared between institutions. However, students are often confused about the opt-in language and how they might benefit, or institutions no longer have correct contact information on file making it difficult to tell students about their eligibility for reverse transfer. Additionally, students may be afraid to participate if they are in default on student loans, or if they think that pursuing a bachelor’s degree means they won’t benefit from being awarded an associate’s degree.

While we can work hard to better educate students on how reverse transfer may directly benefit their lives, careers and future earning potential, eliminating the opt-in requirement altogether would have the greatest effect.


The Reverse Transfer Efficiency Act of 2017 was a bipartisan effort to increase the number of people benefiting from the reverse transfer process by amending FERPA restrictions on information sharing and streamlining the credit sharing process between two-year and four-year institutions. Lawmakers and education leaders agreed this bill could help the thousands of students who transfer credits earned at a two-year college to a four-year institution, but drop out before receiving a bachelor’s degree, leaving them empty-handed and short of prospects for a better job and a better life.

Despite strong bipartisan support, the bill lost steam and did not advance. If the bill can be revived, and it can, the policy changes would dramatically increase the number of Americans who hold a college degree.


Along with policy changes, we also need to address technology hurdles that limit our ability to share student information on a larger scale. The extent of these changes would vary by state as some states already use the same system to share information between two- and four-year institutions. Colorado, on the other hand, does not currently have a streamlined information sharing system, making much of the current articulation process—like matching similar courses between institutions—manual and time consuming.

There is, however, a middle-of-the-road solution. Two-year institutions can implement technology to streamline the articulation process by completing actions in a more automated way. By automating the articulation reviews we could process a higher volume of reverse transfer applications at a lower cost and our students, and our economy, would benefit.

 Why We Support Reverse Transfer  

Students intent on earning a bachelor’s degree often fail to see the benefit of having an associate’s degree. We know life can get in the way and many of these students do not complete the degree they set out to earn. Many students leave their chosen higher education pathway having earned enough credits for a two-year degree; others may learn they were only a few courses shy of earning a credential that could change their career trajectory. Awarding these students a degree—one they theoretically have already earned!—can be life changing, impacting their career, earning potential and confidence.

We know Colorado cannot meet its attainment goals or sustain its booming economy if we fail to help every student cross the finish line. Regardless of the obstacles, we are committed to helping our current and former students by offering them the best chance possible to earn a postsecondary degree and, in doing so, improve their lives.

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