Just Get the Degree: Concocting a Remedy for the Reverse-Transfer Dilemma

Through the "Credit When It's Due" initiative, USA Funds, the Kresge, Helios, Lumina, and Gates foundations announced grants to organizations in 12 states last year to ensure that transferring students have at least an associate's degree as they work toward a bachelor's degree at a four-year school. The grants ranged between $434,000 and $610,000. (See Kresge Foundation: Grants for Higher Education).

According to Lumina, in states like Ohio, as many as three-quarters of students at two-year community colleges transfer to four-year universities before earning their associate's degree. Should these students fail to complete the four-year degree programs into which they transfer, they leave academia with no postsecondary credential at all. This initiative addresses the problem at the state level, tailoring its methodology and approach to suit the individuals situations of each. (See Lumina Foundation: Grants for Higher Education).

The plan makes a lot of sense in the context of the participating foundations' long-term goals. Lumina exists almost solely to ensure that 60% of people in the US have some form of postsecondary degree by 2025; the Gates Foundation has a program with a similar agenda. (See Gates Foundation: Grants for Higher Education).

Although it isn't the ideal scenario, entering the job market with at least an associate's degree versus no postsecondary credentials at all can mean a significant difference in pay grade. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) places the median annual income of young adults entering the market in 2010 with a high school degree but no college at around $29,900. For those entering the market with an associate’s degree that same year, the figure jumps to $37,000.

One of the things that makes Credit Where It's Due a smart little piece of policy karate is that it focuses aid on the campus demographics that need it most. Sara Goldrick-Rab published a 2009 study that correlates this type of so-called "reverse transfer" with low-income students, those at a risk of dropping out, and those who grew up in less-educated households.