Regents committee to weigh options for streamlining transfer from community college to four-year school

Kirkwood president wants to automate 'reverse transfer'

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Iowa community college officials want to simplify the transition and degree attainment options for students who transfer to one of the state’s public universities, and the Board of Regents has formed a committee to consider doing just that.

A “Reverse Credit Transfer Advisory Committee” with representation from Iowa’s three regent universities, community colleges, and the Department of Education will begin meeting in January. An exact date of that first meeting and a timeline for the group’s work hasn’t been set.

The committee will review the possibility of automating the “reverse transfer” process — when a student who transfers to a regent university from a community college before completing an associate degree is awarded the two-year diploma based on credit earned at the university.

Right now, a transfer student who wants to earn a degree, diploma, or certificate when he or she reaches the required 62 credit hours at a public university must “opt in” to the program — agreeing to have his or her transcript sent back to the community college for evaluation.

Kirkwood Community College President Mick Starcevich on Monday said he would prefer that happen automatically, meaning transfer students who don’t want an associate degree, diploma, or certificate from the community college they left would have to “opt out.”

During an event celebrating Kirkwood’s 50th anniversary, Starcevich said he’s meeting with regent representatives Dec. 3 to discuss the reverse-transfer proposal.

“I don’t know if I’ll get that through or not,” Starcevich said told a crowd of hundreds. “But that’s one of the things I’m working on.”

During the president’s panel on Monday, which also involved Kirkwood’s two living past presidents and past and current Board of Trustee chairs, Starcevich praised the college’s partnership with Iowa’s public universities but said he’s disappointed that transferring in general isn’t easier.

“It shouldn’t be that difficult,” he said. “That’s one of my real frustrations.”

Kirkwood has employees who spend all their time helping transfer students receive credit for as many hours as possible, and Starcevich on Monday called on the regent universities to transfer all community college credit.

“I want it seamless,” Starcevich told reporters, praising Iowa’s private universities, which transfer all community college credit hours. “I want that. We don’t have that.”

During Monday’s event, presidents past and present recounted the history of Kirkwood, which started in 1965 as a comprehensive higher education option offering vocational, technical, and junior college-type programming. Kirkwood’s first board represented an array of occupations — including a banker, brick layer, merchant, and farmer — exemplifying the diversity of students it educated.

The community college started as an alternative to public universities, but Starcevich said the relationship between the two is much more of a partnership today. He stressed that point recently to new UI President Bruce Harreld — who, as a candidate for the UI job, mentioned Kirkwood during a public forum.

“He called us ‘the other choice,’” Starcevich said, adding the Hareld didn’t use those words when the two met over the weekend. “Somebody’s been filling him in quite rapidly … (Harreld) said, ‘I’ve learned a lot about our partnership.’”

Starcevich said he plans to meet again with Harreld next week to talk more about ways the schools can work together.

“We are really moving ahead with those partnerships,” Starcevich said. “But it’s a struggle when we want to think about transfers.”

Kirkwood measures its transfer students by counting those enrolled during a school year who do not show up the following fall and instead are enrolled at a regent university before the end of the academic year. For the 2014-2015 school year, for example, 2,908 students who had been at Kirkwood the prior year no longer were enrolled but instead attending UI, Iowa State University, or University of Northern Iowa.

That total included 1,902 at UI, 593 who went to ISU, and 413 who ended up at UNI, according to Kirkwood officials.

Starcevich said those transfer students who leave Kirkwood before earning a degree, diploma, or certificate drag down the school’s graduation rate if they don’t participate in the reverse-transfer program. But reverse transfer participation has been relatively small since its inception in 2012.

At UI, 256 Kirkwood transfer students have participated, with 28 degrees awarded; ISU has had 158 Kirkwood participants, with 17 degrees awarded; and UNI has had 105 Kirkwood participants, with six degrees awarded.

Across the three regent universities, about 2,000 transfer students from the state’s 15 community colleges have been participating in the program — with 150 receiving an award of some kind.

Rob Denson, president of Des Moines Area Community College, said he too has been pushing for the reverse transfer program to become automatic, and he met recently with ISU President Steven Leath to discuss the possibility.

Although privacy concerns exist around the automatic transfer of transcript material, Denson said, Leath was very supportive and took idea back to his staff.

“If we do that, we show that more students do complete their degrees — even if they don’t finish everything with us,” he said. “And that counts as a success rather than a failure.”

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