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Reverse transfer: What if you’d earned a degree and didn’t know it?

A student in the fiber program at Haywood Community College works on her loom. Analisa Sorrells/EducationNC

On this episode of EdTalk, host Alex Granados is talking with James Mikolowsky, a policy analyst at The Hunt Institute. Mikolowsky talks about The Hunt Institute’s Attainment for All research about reverse transfers.

When we talk about reverse transfers, we are talking about students with some college, but no degree. And for all of them, “some sort of postsecondary degree would give these learners a competitive boost in the job market,” finds the research report.

Reverse transfer, sometimes called degree reclamation, just means that “if a student has met the requirements for a degree, regardless of where they earned the credits, they should have the option to receive that degree and obtain the competitive advantage that degrees confer.”

It requires asking, is this student already eligible for a certificate or degree OR what are “the remaining steps necessary for completion?”

The Hunt Institute report covers reverse transfer policy initiatives across the nation, best practices in other states, and presents guiding questions for policymakers.

The research identified several barriers to reverse transfers.

Courtesy of The Hunt Institute

Only those currently enrolled in an institution of higher education are eligible for a reverse transfer, not students who have dropped out.

A federal data privacy law known as FERPA allows a student’s first college to send the student’s education record to a second college without obtaining consent. “However, that allowance is only one-way,” notes the report. The second college can’t send information back to the first college.

And outreach efforts to students to inform them about reverse transfer and the process are complicated by privacy laws as well as the student’s interest and willingness to consent.

The Hunt Institute research finds, “state leaders must think creatively about how to reengage varied audiences of their state’s population and help them attain a credential or degree.”

Sneak peak: The NC Independent Colleges and Universities recently received a grant to implement a reverse transfer program. “Students will benefit from the reverse transfer of credits, which will allow them to achieve the milestone of an associate degree on their way to a four-year degree,” said Peter Hans, president of the NC Community College System. Learn more in our next article on transfers.

This is part of a series on the transfer experiences of North Carolina’s students between community colleges and four-year institutions. Click here to read the rest of the series.


A look at North Carolina education issues and policy.