Like anything worth doing, transferring isn’t the easiest process. From adjusting to a new campus to graduating on time, students face a number of challenges when making the move from one institution to another. And one of those obstacles is the stuff transfer nightmares are made of: losing your college credits and having to start over from scratch.
This is particularly a problem among students transferring from a two-year to a four-year institution, and it’s been shown that students who enroll in a community college then transfer to a four-year school are less likely to earn their degree than if they started there in the first place. The main reason, according to a study by the Graduate Center at the City University of New York, is credit leakage—when earned credits slip through the cracks after students learn they aren’t transferrable. “The greater the loss, the lower the chances of completing a B.A.,” the study states.
Forty-two percent of students who transfer to a four-year school lose up to 89% of their community college credits, according to the report, with 14% of transfer students having to essentially start over. This loss forces students to retake classes they have already completed and, not surprisingly, discourages many from continuing their education.
The good news? Credit leakage is preventable, and there are several ways both schools and students can tackle this transfer issue:
Some states are mandating new laws that compel four-year institutions to establish articulation agreements and other programs with community colleges. These arrangements guarantee transfer students that their new school will accept a minimum amount of the credits they earned at their two-year school. One such program is California’s Student Transfer Reform Act. Enacted in 2010, this effort between California community colleges and the California State University system allows students at participating two-year schools to earn an associate degree for transfer, which allows them to enter a California State University school as juniors.
Most community colleges are accredited, but program-specific accreditation can help students avoid credit leakage even further. For example, “If a community college is accredited for its business school programs, it has established with a four-year institution that it has met certain standards and criteria and requires continuing improvement,” according to Doug Viehand, Executive Director of the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP). It shows that “teaching there is high quality, and they concentrate on specific credit courses,” so transfer students aren’t forced to retake essentially the same classes at a university later down the road.
Many students aren’t aware of the possibility of credit leakage as first-year students at the community-college level, according to Melinda Dorning, Assistant Director of Marketing and Communications at ACBSP. “Many assume they will be able to transfer with their credits, no problem,” she says. “And many take excess classes that won’t apply to their four-year degree. Schools need to find a way to educate students.”
But students also need to educate themselves. A major cause of credit leakage is that “students have not made a decision about what institution they plan to transfer to and attend,” says Viehand. Making a long-term plan and establishing with your schools which credits are transferrable before you make a move can save a lot of time and money in your transfer journey.