Lumina Initiative Pushes Reverse Transfers

A common practice for many college students is to attend community college for two years, then transfer to a four-year institution to complete their degrees. The Lumina Foundation believes those students should return to their two-year schools — to receive their associate's degrees, that is.

The Indianapolis-based funder recently awarded $700,000 in grants to two states — Tennessee and Texas — to develop systems to provide transfer students with the opportunity to receive associate's degrees while enrolled at four-year institutions — a process known as reverse transfer. The grants were awarded under Lumina's "Credit When It's Due" RFP, which seeks to increase the number of students receiving quality associate's degrees. The Credit When It's Due program is a collaboration between Lumina, Kresge Foundation, Helios Education Foundation, USA Funds and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

One of the Lumina Foundation's main objectives is to increase the proportion of Americans holding postsecondary credentials to 60% by the year 2025, known at the Foundation as Goal 2025. 

Tennessee will use its $400,000 grant to develop a software system designed to review student credits and notify transfer students when they have completed requirements for an associate's degree. They would then have the opportunity to receive the credential while enrolled at a four-year institution. The project is a joint venture involving the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, the University of Tennessee System, and an association of independent colleges and universities across the state. The University of Tennessee estimated that an estimated 1,300 transfer students each year will be able to earn associate's degrees under the reverse transfer initiative.

In Texas, meanwhile, the Lone Star College System received $300,000 from Lumina for its reverse transfer initiative, which also involves the University of Texas System. Lone Star, based in the northern suburbs of Houston, is one of the nation's fastest-growing community college systems. It plans to develop policies and practices for awarding associate's degrees to students who transfer to four-year universities. It also plans to share information regarding best practices and identify any barriers that may exist to students earning bachelor's degrees.

The Lumina initiative is about more, however, than counting the number of Americans with college credentials. Higher education authorities and the funder see associate's degrees as valuable job credentials, especially for students who work while pursuing a bachelor's degree. Tennessee cited studies that show a 10% increase in four-year graduation rates for students who receive associate's degrees through reverse transfer.