News & Events / Innovative Strategies to Close Postsecondary Attainment Gaps: Reclaiming Earned Degrees Through Reverse Transfer

Innovative Strategies to Close Postsecondary Attainment Gaps: Reclaiming Earned Degrees Through Reverse Transfer

Published Feb 23, 2021

WASHINGTON, DC (February 23, 2021) – Across the country, students are unwittingly leaving postsecondary credentials on the table without institutions awarding the associate degrees they have earned. A disproportionate number of those students are from populations that have been historically excluded from or overlooked in higher education, including Black, Latinx, Indigenous students, and students from low-income backgrounds. Recognizing these missed opportunities for students—as well as for their families, potential employers, and communities—colleges across the country are institutionalizing a practice called “reverse transfer” (or “reverse credit transfer”) that eliminates a needless impediment to postsecondary attainment. As outlined in a guidebook released today by the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP), two communities on opposite coasts are exemplifying how to develop and implement a reverse transfer model that supports today’s students.

Reclaiming Earned Degrees Through Reverse Transfer shares how equity-centered reverse transfer initiatives in Los Angeles and Richmond ensure that students are awarded the degrees they earned. When a student transfers from a two-year institution to a four-year institution and earns the credits required of an associate degree, the two institutions employ “reverse transfer” to apply credits from the four-year institution back to the two-year institution for the purpose of awarding that associate degree. Early studies suggest reverse transfer recovers a significant number of associate degrees, particularly for students from populations that historically have been marginalized by the nation’s higher education system.

“At its core, reverse transfer is a matter of fairness. When students do the hard work to earn a degree, they deserve to have that degree awarded,” said Mamie Voight, IHEP Interim President. “We applaud these Talent Hubs leaders for recognizing the equity concerns at the heart of reverse transfer work and ensuring credit earned is credit recognized. We encourage institutions across the country to learn from these examples in prioritizing their students.”

“Only 41 percent of students who transfer from community colleges do so after earning a certificate or degree,” noted Leanne Davis, Associate Director of Research and Policy at IHEP. “That means the vast majority of students who transfer take with them accumulated credits but no degree to show for their investment. Ensuring students claim earned degrees not only supports the students; reverse transfer benefits families, the workforce, and entire communities.”

Reclaiming Earned Degrees Through Reverse Transfer is the sixth in IHEP’s Innovative Strategies to Close Postsecondary Attainment Gaps series, a component of IHEP’s work with communities that have shown the ability and commitment to significantly increase college-level learning among students of all backgrounds. Drawing from in-depth interviews with Adam Gottlieb, Senior Manager of Postsecondary Initiatives at UNITE-LA, and Stephanie Odera, former Director of Adult and Non-Traditional Student Services at Virginia Commonwealth University, the guidebook outlines the process of reverse transfer, the role of strong partnerships between institutions, the need for data sharing to inform better advising pathways, and the hope for expanding to other institutions. To that end, the guidebook also includes recommendations for other communities interested in closing attainment gaps by helping students in their regions reclaim earned degrees.

Designated by Lumina Foundation, with support from The Kresge Foundation, Talent Hub Communities work across business, education, and civic sectors to attract, cultivate, and retain skilled and knowledgeable