Phi Beta Cons

Graduation Plan B

If you’ve followed higher education policies recently, you probably recognize the term “completion agenda.” It stems from the fact that many students enter college with the goal of graduating—but they never do.

Only about 56 percent of those who enter college to get a bachelor’s degree obtain a diploma within six years. For community college, the statistics are worse. Only about 29 percent of students starting in community college get an associate’s degree in three years.

Policy-makers have latched on to the figures, starting with the 2006 Department of Education report. That Spellings Commission report highlighted low graduation rates and began to push for “student learning outcomes.” As a 2011 article from the American Council on Education said, “Almost every other new initiative, research report, or news story on students and higher education somehow relates to graduation rates.”

So now we have many efforts to get students to complete their college or at least get some kind of degree. That brings us to “reverse transfer.”

It got a big boost in 2012 when a group of private foundations such as the Lumina Foundation provided seed money. It’s simple—if students started at a community college, transferred to a four-year school but never graduated, they may be eligible for a community college (associate’s) degree.

So in about 15 states, officials are trying to find those students to determine if they have already taken enough credit hours to have achieved the equivalent of an associate’s degree. If so, they will be able to get one.

And now, as Harry Painter discusses, reverse transfer is getting a push by U.S. senators for a national program.  He points out that if it’s such a good idea it will spread from state to state and really does not need federal intervention.

Jane S. ShawJane S. Shaw retired as president of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in 2015. Before joining the Pope Center in 2006, Shaw spent 22 years in ...

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