By taking advantage of a new “reverse transfer” program open to students who transfer from North Carolina community colleges, more than 1,400 students enrolled at University of North Carolina campuses have earned their associate degrees while working toward a four-year degree. Eligible students are given the opportunity to combine credits earned at their respective University with credits previously earned at the community college they attended to determine if they meet requirements for an associate degree.
Earning a two-year degree while pursuing a bachelor’s degree can be a great motivational boost, as well as a safety net, said Tim Wilson, who earned his associate degree from Rowan-Cabarrus Community College while working toward his degree in Hospitality Management at East Carolina University.
“You never know what’s going to happen in the future, so why not have your associate degree and make sure you at least have something for all that work you did,” Wilson said.
The program began in 2013 as a pilot project involving eight UNC campuses and 15 community colleges, supported by a “Credit When It’s Due” grant from USA Funds, in collaboration with the Lumina Foundation, Kresge Foundation, Helios Education Foundation, and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Just two years later, the expanded program now includes all 16 universities in the UNC system and all 58 North Carolina community colleges.
“Scaling the program to the 74 public institutions in the state has been no small undertaking,” said Kate Henz, UNC associate vice president for Academic Policy, Planning & Analysis and co-principal investigator of the grant. “We couldn’t have done it without the hard work of each of the institutions, particularly our lead community college, Central Piedmont, the program and IT staff at the system offices, and the support and vision of UNC President Tom Ross and former NC Community College System President Scott Ralls.”
For students, the process is as simple as a mouse click. Upon transfer to a UNC campus, students with at least 16 college-level credits from a single community college are given the
chance to participate in the reverse-transfer process. Students who elect to participate have their course records automatically transmitted to the community college. Once they earn a total of 60 eligible credit hours, they are awarded an associate degree.
More than 26,000 students who began their studies at a North Carolina community college are now enrolled as undergraduates on UNC campuses, accounting for more than half (56 percent) of all UNC transfer students. Many of them arrive with some credits, but no degree.
One of the goals of UNC system’s five-year strategic plan is increasing the proportion of North Carolinians who hold a bachelor’s degree or higher from 26 percent to 32 percent by 2018. The University’s long-term goal is to raise that number to 37 percent by 2025. This is also in line with the NC Community Colleges’ strategic focus on student success, known as SuccessNC.
Lisa Chapman, senior vice president and chief academic officer for the North Carolina Community College System, noted, “Student success and completion are our colleges’ top priorities, and we are very pleased to work with our UNC partners so that more community college transfer students are awarded their earned associate degrees. The earned credential opens up more opportunities for our students and, in many cases, gives them the extra push they need to complete their baccalaureate degrees.”
Because of life circumstance, such as a job or family issues, some transfer students may not be able to finish their bachelor’s degree within four years. Thanks to the reverse transfer program, however, students can use those credits toward an associate degree, increasing marketability with employers.
The leaders of the two systems — UNC President Ross and Interim President George Fouts of the NC Community Colleges — believe the reverse-transfer system is a “win-win-win” for everybody involved: students get credit toward their associate degree, the University gets students who are well on their way to earning a bachelor’s degree, and the state gets a better-educated, better-trained workforce.
“We feel strongly that our institutions must help improve the educational attainment of North Carolinians for the future,” Ross said. “The jobs of the future are going to require more talent and more education, and we want to do our part. We know that if a student gets an associate degree, it helps motivate them to get their four-year degree. The biggest win is for the people of North Carolina, because it helps prepare the talent force for the future.”