HARRISONBURG — While colleges and universities can reverse transfer credits between four- and two-year institutions, they may soon have more funding to do so.
U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., is co-sponsoring Senate Bill 2986, the Correctly Recognizing Educational Achievements to Empower Graduates Act, which would provide grants for states to award to institutions. That money would be used to market reverse transfer programs as well as find and notify students who qualify, which can be time- and resource-consuming.
Reverse transfer means that students who attend community colleges and then transfer to four-year institutions could use their credits from the four-year university to complete their associate degree.
For example, those who attend Blue Ridge Community College, transfer to James Madison University and then drop out, can transfer their credits earned at JMU back to BRCC to put toward earning an associate degree.
BRCC President John Downey said students who spend all that time, effort and money on schooling before dropping out can at least receive a two-year degree. To be eligible for a BRCC degree, the student would have to complete at least 25 percent of their schooling through the community college.
Kaine said in a release that community colleges and four-year institutions must work together to make degrees a reality for students.
The bill, if passed, would help institutions identify students who have the credits to earn an associate degree, those within 12 credits of earning that degree and help future students better understand graduation requirements, according to the release.
“The CREATE Graduates Act will make it easier for these students to get their associate’s degree at a community college,” Kaine said, “so they can enter the job market better prepared to compete in today’s economy and earn higher wages.”
Downey said many students dropout of school for personal reasons, such as financial struggles, family illness or after having a child. A lot can happen in the years that it takes to earn a degree, he said.
BRCC and JMU already work together on reverse transfers, Downey said.
“We knew that in this age where it’s hard enough to get a job in terms of having the skills, having more credentials is better than having fewer credentials,” Downey said. “We saw it as a way to increase the number of credentials.”
BRCC also is partially funded based on performance, Downey said, so it benefits the college to ensure that all students who have enough credits to earn a degree do receive a diploma.
JMU Dean of Admissions Michael Walsh said he supports the reverse transfer program because an associate degree “makes them a little more marketable when they’re looking for a job.”
Roughly 200 transfer students a year do not graduate from JMU, Walsh said. Of those, some transfer to other institutions or have plans to return at a later date, so there are not many in the community who need reverse transfers.
But the bill would help those who can’t continue their four-year degree to still receive a diploma, he said.
“Not all transfer students look the same,” Walsh said. “They come from a variety of backgrounds and their travels through the two-year and four-year schools will vary depending on many of their personal challenges.”
Though JMU has a high retention rate and already partners with BRCC on reverse transfers, Downey said, Kaine’s bill may inspire more institutions to work together across the nation.
“Nationally, I think it’s an important issue because so many students accumulate credits and never finish,” he said.
“For those kind of students in places where retention isn’t good, it gives them a credential rather than just a bag of credits that doesn’t do them any good.”