Education

Iowa Board of Regents push 'reverse credit transfer' in new collaboration

Iowa Board of Regents President Michael Richards opens the public comments time at the Board of Regents meeting at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa, Thursday, October 19, 2017.
Iowa Board of Regents President Michael Richards opens the public comments time at the Board of Regents meeting at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa, Thursday, October 19, 2017.

The Iowa Department of Education on Thursday — together with the Board of Regents — announced efforts to help community college students who transfer to a four-year university before earning a degree more easily receive a retroactive credential from the school they left.

The partnership between Iowa’s three public universities, 15 community colleges, and the National Student Clearinghouse aims to bolster college completion rates and support a Future Ready Iowa initiative, which calls for 70 percent of Iowa workers to have some post-high school education or training by 2025, according to a news release.

The collaboration is an outgrowth of a “reverse credit transfer advisory committee” the Board of Regents formed with community college and state education department representatives in early 2016 aimed at simplifying the transition and degree attainment options for transfer students.

Those students have been able to submit university credits toward completion of an associate degree they started at a community college since 2012, but the committee aimed to make doing so easier — possibly by automating the “reverse transfer” process.

As the program stands, transfer students who want to earn an associate degree, diploma, or certificate using credit earned at the university must “opt in” — meaning they must agree to have their transcripts sent back to the community college for evaluation.

Committee members considered requiring students to opt out to prevent the reverse transfer, but Board of Regents spokesman Josh Lehman said they found that wasn’t an option “based on the requirements of FERPA,” the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act that protects the privacy of student education records.

Thus changes enacted through the new collaboration unveiled this week are largely behind the scenes — with the National Student Clearinghouse now serving as the vehicle to get the student transcripts from the universities to the appropriate community colleges, Lehman said.

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Universities also will be better able to track participating students to determine when to send transcripts to the clearinghouse.

“The biggest change for students is probably that students are likely to hear about it more often now from advisers” and admissions staff at the institutions, Lehman said.

The state’s public universities are encouraging students who have transferred in with 30 or more community college credits to participate. This news comes as the state schools are grappling with late-year state funding cuts and looming tuition hikes for all students — including residential undergraduates.

Even with minimal changes for students, the behind-the-scenes adjustments to the regents’ reverse-credit-transfer program are expected “to boost college completion rates and to generate a significant increase in the number of community college credentials awarded.”

A regents report to the Iowa General Assembly on articulation efforts by community colleges and public universities from October 2015 to September 2016 show since the reverse-credit-transfer program was implemented in 2012, about 2,000 transfer students have participated.

At the time of the report, about 150 students had received an associate degree through the program, and 585 reverse-credit-program students had received a bachelor’s degree at their respective universities.

The new partnership, which is underway now, involves memorandums of understanding between Iowa’s 15 community colleges, three public universities, and the clearinghouse to share “student course records” — with student permission.

Each university has a separate memorandum of understanding with the clearinghouse, which called the collaboration “a great leadership testimony that all of Iowa’s four-year and two-year public colleges and universities will be working with us.”

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“Nationwide, there are more than 4 million students with some college and no degree, according to our Research Center,” according to Michelle Blackwell, national manager of reverse transfer initiatives at the clearinghouse.

Rachel Boon, chief academic officer for the Board of Regents, said the partnership is “great news for students.”

“This is a great tool that will help even more Iowa students gain momentum on the path to a bachelor’s degree,” she said.

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