Senate bill could bring transfer students closer to an associate degree

Last Wednesday, Senate Democrats released their 785-page bill to renew the Higher Education Act, the nearly 50-year-old law that dictates federal student aid. 

Among legislation to instill year-round Pell Grants and let students use two-year-old tax data when applying for aid, the bill also includes a measure that would help students who transferred from a community college to a four-year school without an associate degree. 

Sponsored by Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat who sponsored the renewal of the Higher Education Act, the bill promotes reverse-transfer programs, which allow four-year schools to send students’ records to the community college from which they transferred, allowing the college to award them with an associate degree if they have enough credits. 

Reverse-transfer programs could be an invaluable option for students who transferred from a community college to a four-year university without earning a degree, and can be especially helpful for those who completed some credits at a four-year university without finishing. 

When announcing the bill, Hagan acknowledged the variety of reasons a student may not complete their degrees, from having a family to not being able to afford the educational costs. 

The logic behind the proposal is simple: rather than leave former students with no credentials and a pile of debt, the credits they completed could count toward a degree that will leave them better qualified for the work force. 

In fact, only 56 percent of community college students who transferred to a four-year institution without an associate degree earn their bachelor’s degree within a six-year period, according to a report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Based on this, nearly half of these students don’t finish either degree. 

Reverse-transfer programs are nothing new, but should certainly gain more momentum. As mentioned in the bill’s press release, North Carolina is currently testing the program, which is projected to help up to 2,000 students earn an associate degree. 

Fifteen states so far, including Florida, have begun using this program. According to information presented at this year’s National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students Conference, only four Florida universities and 10 transfer partner schools offer reverse-transfer, with criteria such as completing 60 credits and being in good academic standing. USF is among these universities. 

While this may already be an option for some Florida students, the bill could open opportunities for students in a variety of situations throughout the state and the country as a whole. 

Another tenet of the bill is that it could not only help eligible students who did not finish their bachelor’s, but it could also help those in the process of getting their bachelor’s be academically qualified for the work force while in school. 

The proposal is a progressive step toward helping transfer students who haven’t earned an associate have the product of the work and money put toward their education. If the measure passes, it could improve the economic situations of current and former students throughout the country. 

Isabelle Cavazos is a junior majoring in English and Spanish.