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Giving Credit Where It’s Due

Frank Head Shot[2]When students transfer from community colleges to four-year institutions before earning their associate degrees, they miss out on the benefit of the degree and are not counted toward the community college’s graduation goal. In a guest post, Frank Yanchak describes a program that awards associate degrees to students who’ve already transferred to four-year colleges like his. Mr. Yanchak, university registrar at Franklin University, in Ohio, is scheduled to present on this topic at the annual meeting this week of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

Each year approximately 50,000 students in Ohio transfer from community colleges to four-year colleges before receiving an associate degree. Nearly half of the students who transfer to Franklin University come from a community college. For the past year we have been working with community colleges to award those students credit where it is due.

Many states have set goals for degree completion. But what happens when students leave a community college to earn a bachelor’s degree before finishing their associate degree? Those students don’t have the benefit of the degree, and they aren’t counted toward that goal.

But there is a solution. Students who didn’t complete their associate degrees before leaving community college can earn them after the fact with the help of credits from their four-year college, in a process called reverse transfer.

Many national initiatives and grants support that process, including the Lumina Foundation, which has given $500,000 to the Ohio Board of Regents to develop a systematic approach for awarding associate degrees to those students.

An associate degree is an important milestone in a student’s education as well as a valuable credential to have on a résumé. Employers value an associate degree as evidence of a commitment to expanding knowledge and achieving educational goals. Associate degrees can also help students land better jobs to support themselves as they finish their four-year degrees.

All 23 community colleges and all 13 public universities in Ohio, along with a few private institutions, including Franklin University, have contributed to this statewide initiative. The goal is to award 1,300 associate degrees through the process over the two-year grant period, which began in the fall of 2012. To date, Ohio has graduated 594 associate degrees through the program.

What exactly is my role in the process? As university registrar, I work with community-college partners to identify students who have transferred hours without obtaining their associate degree and who have already earned additional hours at our institution that could be transferred back toward the degree. I send a notification letter to the students advising them of the program. We ask them to fill out a form, required under federal privacy regulations, that allows us to send their official transcript back to their original community college.

I ask that the form be returned to the office by a certain time, waive any fees for processing the transcript, and mail it to the partner’s registrar. It is now up to our partner institution to review coursework and determine if awarding the degree is possible. If the degree is awarded, we request the degree information so we can update our records to show that the student has now earned an associate degree.

Though there may be some challenges in getting started with this type of program, it is worth it. We have received a lot of positive feedback from students who have been through the program—and interest from others who are considering it.

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