A look at MSU Denver’s reverse transfer pilot

Forty people now have associate’s degrees who otherwise would not thanks to the pilot reverse transfer program between Metropolitan State University of Denver and the Colorado Community College System.

MSU Denver in spring 2012 partnered with the Community College of Aurora, Front Range Community College and Community College of Denver to test drive reverse transfer – a program that in Colorado is now called Degree Within Reach.

As the program continues to expand during the 2013-2014 academic year, lessons can be learned from the MSU Denver-CCCS collaboration.

Here are some highlights:

  • During spring 2012, MSU Denver pulled information for students enrolled at MSU Denver and those who had been enrolled the prior five years;
  • Students eligible for reverse transfer credit must have completed 70 total credits with a minimum of 15 degree applicable credits at one of the three participating community colleges;
  • MSU Denver identified 1,135 potentially eligible students from the three feeders: Community College of Aurora, 226; Front Range, 461; and Community College of Denver, 448.
  • MSU Denver mailed postcards and emailed all potentially eligible students, and found that email was a much better way to reach students than postcards. (Printing, advertising and postage (hard) costs totaled $1,880.)
  • MSU Denver sent about 45 transcripts to the three community colleges where they were manually reviewed by staff, and the participating community colleges awarded 39 degrees, including eight from CCA, 21 from FRCC and 10 from CCD. One degree was awarded later through CCA.

When she testified on behalf of reverse transfer before members of the state legislature, Judi Diaz Bonacquisti, associate vice president for enrollment at MSU Denver, pointed out that more than 60 percent of MSU Denver’s 24,000 students had transferred to MSU Denver from other campuses.

While the net number of degrees awarded fell short of expectations, Erin Hoag, assistant provost for student affairs and institutional research at the Colorado Community College System, described the MSU Denver pilot as a success.

“Even if we had only awarded one degree it’s a success for that student, a success for that college and a success for our community,” Hoag said. “The partnership between the three community colleges and the system office and Metro worked really, really well. People were committed and engaged form the very beginning and made it happen. We really did not have any hiccups.”

The biggest challenge, according to Hoag, was making sure students understood the benefits of the program.

“I’m not sure we ever found the best way to market it,” she said. “It’s critical we explain reverse transfer in a way that really makes sense to students.”

Hoag said the manual review required by community college staff was “time intensive” but noted that the process should be greatly enhanced once the electronic system is in place. (Read this update on the Parchment contract).

For participating students, the process was easy to navigate and all online. Students simply had to agree to have their MSU Denver transcripts sent to the community college they attended. Students were then contacted by the community college and given an opportunity to opt out in case a student wanted to hold out for a higher level degree, such as an associate’s of art or science – since students can only get one degree through the reverse transfer process.

Courtney Gomez, 27, can’t say enough about the associate’s degree she earned through the pilot program.

She spent nine years in and out of college while working and raising children. She ended up securing an associate’s degree in general studies and her bachelor’s degree in accounting in December.

The Longmont single mom of five said the credentials she earned through Front Range and MSU Denver have had a huge impact on her career opportunities and salary. She is now an accountant for the Boulder-based STAR Institute, a small nonprofit focused on atmospheric research, after starting with the organization as a part-time administrative assistant five years ago.

“I did feel since the opportunity was there for me to get it it would be great to have something to show for all the work I did,” Gomez said. “Now I at least have two degrees for being in school for nine years.”

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