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NCWE Board Member Blog - Amy Hatfield
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Exploring Reverse Transfer

    Amy Hatfield
    Dean Workforce Development and Basic Studies
    Olympic College



I first became interested in the process of Reverse Transfer when I was given the assignment to identify, analyze, and track a piece of state legislation as part of a year-long leadership opportunity. Eastern Washington University (EWU) had reviewed its data and determined that 55% of their transfer students had not earned their associate degrees prior to transfer.1 This raised a lot of eyebrows here and led to an agreement between EWU and the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges and ultimately state legislation requiring all public four-year colleges and universities in the state of Washington to inform students about the Reverse Transfer option.2 As a percentage of our state funding is linked to performance-based measures, to include certificate and degree completion, I wanted to learn more.

What I came to understand is that this isn’t just a Washington state issue – it’s a national issue. And the public desire for the earning of credentials to ensure a skilled, trained, and educated workforce has been steadily increasing during this time. I also realized that at 55%, EWU wasn’t really doing that badly after all. Because since then, I’ve read information from Senior Research Scholar Davis Jenkins of the Community College Research Center that statistic for the national average for the percentage of students transferring to four-year institutions with their associate’s degree is 29%, which means 71% of students have not earned it.3 Other organizations report that even fewer students have earned it. According to the National Student Clearinghouse, 78% of community college students transfer to a four-year institution prior to earning their associate’s degree.4

Community and technical colleges accept degree seeking students who have indicated a goal of transferring to a four-year college or university with the hope is that the students will successfully complete the requisite courses and earn their degrees. And this isn’t an aspiration without foundation – nationally more 80% of community college students indicate an intention to earn a baccalaureate degree.5

When students leave before earning their degree, there are several impacts. Lost tuition revenue immediately comes to mind. There may also be state enrollment support funds or performance funds that will not be received by your college. Sometimes, this can be offset by states that reward transfers from community colleges heavily. The college’s IPEDS data is a consideration. Lastly, with tight budgets and declining enrollments, it can negatively impact how effective the institution views the performance of specific programs. This can in turn impact staff and faculty morale.

What is Reverse Transfer?
Reverse transfer is the process whereby academic credits for applicable coursework at a four-year institution are transferred back to a community or technical college for the purpose of attaining an associate degree.

What are some of the benefits of Reverse Transfer?

  • Students earn a recognized credential which has significance to employers as documentation of skills acquired. For example, an associate degree in business showcases a separate and distinct knowledge base for students now seeking a baccalaureate degree in communications.
  • Provides students with the highest-level credential they have earned should they need to leave school before completion of their four-year degree.
  • Data from focus groups as part of the “Credit When It’s Due” initiative (CWID), indicates that the awarding of the associate degree seems to further encourage successful completion of the baccalaureate degree as noted in comments by Jason Taylor in an “Inside Higher Ed” blog by Matt Reed.6
  • Allows for freedom of early transfers for academic disciplines, such as engineering, information technology, arts, etc.
Community or Technical College
  • Can contribute to colleges’ success in achieving completions in relation to funding, enrollment and state-level competitions, as well as improve public perception of effectiveness.
  • May strengthen institutional partnerships.
  • Demonstrates a commitment to student success.
  • Allows for a more accurate depiction of the role of community and technical colleges in overall degree attainment than is currently accounted for in state and national audit systems.
  • Gives each faculty and staff member recognition for the work they do in support of students.
  • Increases the number of people with post-secondary credentials.
Four-year College or University
  • Data from focus groups as part of the “Credit When It’s Due” initiative (CWID) indicates that the awarding of the associate degree seems to further encourage successful completion of the baccalaureate degree as noted in comments by Jason Taylor.7
  • May strengthen institutional partnerships.
  • Demonstrates a commitment to student’s success.

What are some of the concerns about Reverse Transfer?


  • Making sure the awarding of the associate degree is student initiated; for a myriad of reasons, not all students want an associate’s degree on their transcripts. Honoring student intent is critical.
  • Understanding the rules at their former community college. As an example, these may include the minimum number of credits earned at their institution. Or unfamiliarity with policies that may be waived. For instance, my college requires that the last 10 credits be earned there to be awarded a degree. This can be solved with a petition to the registrar’s. This may seem daunting to some students, but it’s not a difficult process
  • The process involves additional paperwork, processing, and potential tracking. There are staff and technology limitations that need to be recognized.
  • Helping faculty and staff at both the community and technical colleges, along with the four-year institutions, understand the benefits to the students and the institution takes time and effort.
  • The data may be influenced by parents who insist for evidence of students’ commitment to the pursuit of higher education by demonstrating success at the local community or technical college first before agreeing to support attendance at a four-year college or university.

How can I learn more?
Here’s a small sampling of resources to get more information about Reverse Transfer:

The National Student Clearinghouse Reverse Transfer Project

Community College Research Center at Columbia University

“Credit When It's Due (CWID)” Initiative

The importance of credentials continues to gain recognition. The National Student Clearinghouse estimates that more than 2 million students attended community colleges for more than 2 years during 2003-2013.8 Reverse Transfer is one tool to help students be awarded the degrees they have earned.

A word of caution, please don’t be confused by Reverse Transfers as I did when I first went exploring. These are students who start at a four-year college or university, leave, and then enroll at a community or technical college.

Lastly, if you have 86 seconds to spare, please see Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski III’s welcome to his community college students transferring to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County – it’s inspirational!

  1. “Agreement allows transfer students to earn associate’s degree at EWU,” Spokesman Review, March 31, 2016.
  2. “Legislature overrides Gov. Jay Inslee's vetoes,” Associated Press, March 30, 2016. (Additional information: Final Bill Report and Bill as it passed the legislature.)
  3. Matt Reed, “Reverse Transfers and Unintended Consequences,” Inside Higher Ed, March 22, 2017.
  4. National Student Clearinghouse, “Reverse Transfer Project,”, retrieved January 2018.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Matt Reed, “Reverse Transfers and Unintended Consequences,” Inside Higher Ed, March 22, 2017.
  7. Ibid.
  8. National Student Clearinghouse, “Reverse Transfer Project,”, retrieved January 2018.

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