American Council on Education releases new report on the time and cost of transferring college credit

Friction. It’s something most students learn about in middle- or high-school science classes, but it’s also a concept that prevents some people from finishing a postsecondary degree.

About one-third of students entering college have earned credit from another institution. Students rely on these credits to make the cost and time-to-degree more manageable. But too often students still find themselves forced to take courses that repeat previously acquired skills.

While some colleges and universities readily accept credit for prior learning, the transfer process at too many institutions remains confusing and cumbersome.

According to a new report from the American Council on Education National Task Force on the Transfer and Award of Credit, “Acceptance of credit for prior learning often varies widely by colleges and even within departments at the same college.”

This friction can create unnecessary barriers and force some students to give up, losing an opportunity to unlock their potential. The ACE Task Force report indicates 44 percent of students who sought transfer of credit had only some, or none, of their credit successfully moved to their new institution.

As higher education explores ways to improve access, institutions are looking for a better way to ensure that students receive credit for learning, regardless of where it was acquired.

The ACE Task Force outlines six recommendations for college and university leaders to consider to reduce the time and cost associated with transferring credit:

  • Prioritize transfer of credit as an essential component of student success;
  • Remove unnecessary obstacles that keep students from accessing transcripts;
  • Leverage technology to facilitate the review of credit;
  • Make it clear what credits are awarded and how they will apply to a student’s course of study;
  • Dedicate new resources to help advise students during the transfer of credit process; and
  • Co-design articulation agreements and transfer pathways with partner institutions.

The Charles Koch Foundation (CKF) provided a grant in 2020 to support research to help inform the Task Force, which is co-chaired by Anne Holton, former interim president of George Mason University, and Timothy White, chancellor emeritus at California State University.

CKF supports education entrepreneurs who are identifying ways to make it easier for students to earn and transfer college credit.

Arizona State University (ASU) has a robust set of transfer tools, including a Transfer Credit Guide, that brings clarity to the transferability and applicability of credit at ASU. The tool also facilitates rapid verification and approval. (Learn more from ASU vice president for academic alliances Cheryl Hyman about ASU’s tools.)

TEL Education is working to ensure dual-enrollment credits fully transfer to a wide range of programs. In order to maximize the chances of successful transfer, for example, TEL has established a nationwide network of dual-enrollment providers that allows high schools and learners to select a college that already provides the credit. Western Governors University recently was recognized for its work to develop transfer pathways for community-college transfer students.

ASU President Michael Crow and WGU President Scott Pulsipher sit on the ACE Task Force.

“Flexible educational opportunities can unlock a student’s potential, so it’s all the more important that colleges and universities proactively remove unnecessary barriers like outdated credit transfer policies and practices,” said Charles Koch Foundation Executive Director Ryan Stowers. “We think this research and the Task Force’s broader efforts are important steps toward ensuring there are educational opportunities that truly meet the needs of all learners.”

The Charles Koch Foundation partners with social entrepreneurs to drive societal progress through academic research and innovations that help all learners realize their potential. Read more about the Foundation’s support for education.  

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American Council on Education releases report on the time and cost of transferring college credit

Forty-four percent of students who sought transfer of credit had only some, or none, of their credit moved to their new institution.

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