Increasing Degree Completion by Giving Credit When It’s Due

Author: Helios Education Foundation

November 17, 2016

The enthusiasm that Samantha Franks has to serve others is evident by the way she describes her internship at Heartland for Children in Bartow, Florida. Franks is driven to serve others, ensuring that her work is meaningful, impactful and benefits the neediest in her community which is why she pursued a degree in social work. “I am thrilled to say that I will graduate in December with a baccalaureate degree in social work and have been accepted to the master’s program at USF,” Franks shared.

The seamless transition between Frank’s baccalaureate degree completion and enrollment into   a master’s program could have been delayed and costlier in both time and money were it not for the reverse transfer process that allowed Franks to start her coursework at the University of South Florida while ensuring completion of a Polk State College associate degree requirement.

“When I went to orientation day [at USF] for the social work program, I thought I was going to go straight into the program, but I learned that I had prerequisite classes that I had to take. These prerequisite classes are common core classes that all USF students have to take.” Franks explained.

In addition to prerequisite classes for USF, Franks learned that she would have to take a math credit in order to fulfill her associate degree math requirement still pending. Completing the math requirement meant dual enrolling at Polk State College and USF, adding an online course to her full university course load or, potentially, adding one more semester to her baccalaureate timeline in order to fulfill that single math requirement. Franks found a solution with the help of the reverse transfer process. “Thanks to the guidance of Counselor Martha Smith at Polk State College, Alexander Campus, I was able to take a math class at USF, and have it transfer back to Polk State the same semester that I was taking my USF prerequisites. I was thrilled!” 

The unexpected twist that Samantha Franks faced is one that is replayed on state college campuses through the state of Florida. Students often start at a state college, transfer to a four-year university and continue to accumulate college credits yet, for a myriad of reasons, fall short of associate degree conferral. While these students have enough credit hours to qualify for an associate degree, prior to the Credit When It’s Due initiative the accumulation of their credit hours did not equate to a degree. 

Credit When It’s Due, supported in part by Helios Education Foundation with a $495,00 grant to the Florida College System Foundation, identifies qualified students by way of the National Student Clearinghouse. Students who meet the credit accumulation criteria are contacted and asked to “opt-in” to the reverse transfer program. Upon student consent, transcripts are exchanged between four-year and two-year institutions which leads to an audit of the student’s academic record, credit accumulation is assured and ultimately, the student is conferred an associate degree.
In the Tampa Bay metropolitan region, the University of South Florida has engaged Hillsborough Community College, State College of Florida - Manatee-Sarasota, Pasco-Hernando State College, St. Petersburg College and Polk State College in this process while in the Miami metropolitan area, Florida International University has entered into a reverse transfer agreement with both Broward and Miami Dade Colleges.

“Credit When It’s Due gives students the satisfaction of having achieved a milestone along their progressive education track” explained Kathy Bucklew, Director of Student Enrollment Services at Polk State College in Florida. “Many students I’ve contacted did not even know they qualified for an AA degree.”

Over the course of Helios’ engagement in this work, 2012 - 2015, 10 colleges and four universities in Florida opted into the Credit When It’s Due initiative, conferring over 300 associate degrees. 
The Florida College System identified five broad processes required for reverse transfer implementation: student identification, consent, transcript exchange, degree audit and degree conferral.

One significant challenge to the reverse transfer process is student consent. In order to initiate the process, students must provide their consent for university transcripts to be released back to the college which becomes a significant challenge once the student is no longer enrolled. To address this need, a number of colleges are now including consent language into their transfer student admission application.

The opportunity for students to receive conferral of a degree already earned not only empowers the individual student, but also showcases the educational attainment of Florida’s workforce. According to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, by 2020, 65 percent of all jobs in the economy will require postsecondary education and training beyond high school. The Credit When It’s Due initiative brings validation of students’ educational achievements and positions them for workforce success.

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