Five national foundations announced the recipients of $6.4 million in grants supporting a multi-state initiative to help more students who have transferred from community colleges to four-year colleges and universities complete their associate degrees. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Helios Foundation, Kresge Foundation, Lumina Foundation, and USA Funds have joined forces in the initiative, “Credit When It’s Due: Recognizing the Value of the Quality Associate Degree.”
The initiative is designed to encourage partnerships of community colleges and universities to significantly expand programs that award associate degrees to transfer students when the student completes the requirements for the associate degree while pursuing a bachelor’s degree. This approach is commonly known as “reverse back” or “reverse transfer.” The funding will support expansion of programs in 12 states: Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Oregon. The projects were selected from a competitive grant proposal process.
Jamie Merisotis, President and CEO of Lumina Foundation, underscored the key benefits of systematizing how we award associate degrees: “Credit When It’s Due will provide a way to fairly credit community colleges for their work in preparing transfer students, clarify the value of sub-baccalaureate degrees by awarding them consistently, help individuals—especially those who stop out of college before earning a baccalaureate degree—by providing them a postsecondary credential with proven currency in the labor market, and promote efforts to more clearly define the learning outcomes inherent in all associate degrees.”
Bill Moses, Program Director for Education at the Kresge Foundation, underscored the timeliness of Credit When It’s Due: “As tax revenues have dropped, state legislatures have reduced funding for America’s public universities. This is often putting public university tuition beyond the reach of many students, so many are trying to cut costs by spending time at a community college first. ‘Credit When It’s Due’ helps to ensure that students struggling financially can get a marketable credential on what is an increasingly long path to a bachelor’s degree.”
Carl Dalstrom, president and CEO of USA Funds, noted: “This initiative more equitably recognizes transfer students’ academic achievement, as well as the significant contributions that community colleges make to enhance our nation’s educational attainment levels. We believe these students and their colleges deserve full credit for their achievements.”
“Obtaining a postsecondary education is critical for today’s students who are competing in a globalized economy that demands high level 21st century skills,” said Helios Education Foundation’s President and CEO Paul Luna. “The Credit When It’s Due initiative not only underscores that value but it recognizes the academic achievement of students who have earned the credits needed for an associate degree. One of the reasons why Helios is so excited to support this initiative is that it strengthens the collaboration between Florida’s college and state university systems around creating a college-going culture and advancing a college completion agenda. That’s good news for students, employers and even Florida’s economic future.”
Lumina and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations will assist the Office of Community College Research and Leadership at the University of Illinois to collect data on the results of these scale-up activities in the states. “A key interest,” explains Elise Miller, Program Officer at the Gates Foundation, "is to learn if reverse transfer makes a difference in baccalaureate-degree completion for students awarded the associate degree on route to the baccalaureate—and if so, for which students. We have learned from some pilot efforts that receiving the associate degree does have a motivational impact, encouraging some students to keep pursuing the baccalaureate. For others, receiving the associate degree helps them secure better employment while they’re continuing in school part-time."
“There are many important lessons to be learned by conducting research on the data we can collect through the work of these states. Most projects will work with 100% of the community colleges and public universities in their states—so this will be a unique and major push to fully engage transfer associate degrees as a key strategy within a state’s degree completion goal,” said Holly Zanville, program director at Lumina Foundation, heading up the “Credit When It’s Due” work.