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Partnership taps reverse transfers to boost college completion

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Commentary
Peter Mora, Sr., and Herman Saatkamp
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​With college completion rates under increasing scrutiny and institutional accountability of growing importance, a new partnership by our two Southern New Jersey colleges takes a novel approach to improving graduation rates, while creating winning options for students and both colleges.

Atlantic Cape Community College (Atlantic Cape) and Richard Stockton College of New Jersey (Stockton) recently signed a two-pronged, dual-degree program (DDP) that features both a traditional focus and one that breaks new ground in the form of a “reverse transfer” or “reverse back” provision.

Under the traditional portion of the agreement, students who apply to Stockton but are not admitted as freshmen can enroll in the DDP, complete the program requirements, earn an associate in arts or associate in science degree from Atlantic Cape, then transfer to Stockton to earn a baccalaureate in their chosen program of study. The agreement also extends this option to currently enrolled Atlantic Cape students who meet the program’s requirements. In addition, long-standing articulation agreements under which Atlantic Cape graduates transfer to Stockton remain in force.

Attaining that first degree

The novel portion of the new DDP offers a reverse transfer feature that addresses an issue Atlantic Cape has long faced—its students transferring out of the college before they earn an associate degree. In the 2009 cohort, the most recent one studied, 15.5 percent of first-time, full-time students left the college for a four-year college before earning an associate degree.

The majority of those students went to Stockton. In the past three years alone, 442 students transferred to Stockton with at least 32 credits before finishing their two-year degree.

Under the DDP’s reverse transfer feature, Atlantic Cape students who transfer to Stockton with a minimum of 32 approved credits also will have their achievements recognized with an associate degree from Atlantic Cape when they complete an additional 32 credits of approved courses at Stockton. These students will then be counted in Atlantic Cape’s graduation rate, thus positively impacting completion rates. 

Nationally, the effort to develop reverse transfer agreements to improve graduation rates is gaining growing attention. Lumina Foundation, the nation’s largest foundation dedicated exclusively to increasing students’ access to and success in postsecondary education, has joined with four other funders to award $6.4 million in grants to 12 states in which two- and four-year colleges will collaborate in pilot projects to develop reverse transfer pacts. Called the “Credit When It’s Due Project,” the effort began in fall 2012 and will continue through 2014.

Good results for everyone 

Although the Atlantic Cape-Stockton reverse transfer program is just getting under way, we believe it will offer distinct benefits for all parties:

  • Students will be motivated to achieve two valuable degrees and recognition for their academic achievement through award of the associate degree. That degree also provides students a marketable employment credential while they pursue a bachelor’s degree.
  • Atlantic Cape will experience two positive outcomes: an increase in enrollment from students who ultimately wish to attend Stockton and higher graduation rates due to the award of associate degrees to students who would not previously have received them through the reverse transfer feature. The agreement also provides tangible validation of the importance the college serves in preparing transfer students.
  • Stockton will see expanded admission options through a new pathway for transfer students and build an even closer relationship with its top sending school in terms of transfer students.

Both of our schools realize the program is not a panacea and will require tight coordination to succeed. Procedurally, as in a typical DDP, Stockton will admit a select group of first-year applicants each fall and spring into the DDP. These students will accept the offer of admission and enroll at Atlantic Cape to pursue their designated AA or AS degree. They now can opt for a path that provides an incentive to remain at Atlantic Cape through the completion of the AA or AS degree.

Upon fulfilling the academic requirements at Atlantic Cape, these students will be guaranteed admission as juniors into the intended Stockton program of study with no loss of eligible credit earned at Atlantic Cape, up to a maximum of 64 credits.

Alternately, if they transfer to Stockton after earning 32 credits at Atlantic Cape, they can continue taking Stockton courses toward the baccalaureate while simultaneously applying those credits to meet their associate degree requirements at Atlantic Cape. Stockton will prepare an appropriate curriculum worksheet for their educational planning.

Stockton’s admissions office will stay in contact with the students while they are at Atlantic Cape. Similarly, Atlantic Cape’s transfer counselors will work with students to ensure they meet program requirements while maintaining a minimum 2.7 cumulative grade point average. To further ensure a smooth transition from Atlantic Cape, Stockton will enroll DDP students in a Orientation-to-Stockton seminar.

With the emphasis growing on improving graduation rates, we believe the reverse transfer holds great potential to do just that.

Mora is president of Atlantic Cape Community College and Saatkamp is president of Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.

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