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Messer introduces bill to help more transfer students earn degrees

September 18, 2017

U.S. Rep. Luke Messer has introduced federal legislation to help make it easier for students who transferred from community college to a four-year institution to earn degrees—a policy some Indiana officials are separately trying to advance statewide.

The policy Messer is trying to advance is known as “reverse transfer” in higher education policy parlance, the process of awarding associate degrees after combining credits students earned from both the community college where they started attending classes and the four-year college they transferred to—even if they hadn’t completed enough credits at either institution individually to earn a degree.

Messer’s bill, which he authored along with Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., and Rep. Drew Ferguson, R-Ga., would “streamline credit-sharing” between two- and four-year colleges so transfer students can be notified when they become eligible to receive an associate’s degree.

“Too often, transfer students are walking away from college without a degree,” Messer said in a written statement. “Our bill will make it easier for transfer students to combine credits and get a degree they’ve earned, even when life gets in the way. An associate’s degree can be a game changer, and help more Hoosiers get a better job and earn higher pay.”

Messer’s proposed legislation would change the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, known as FERPA, which "regulates the sharing of student credit information between higher education institutions, to make the process more open and efficient,” according to Messer’s office.

“The bill would permit the disclosure of students’ post-secondary coursework and credit information to an institution the student was previously enrolled at only for the purpose of applying such coursework and credits toward completion of a recognized post-secondary credential,” according to Messer’s press secretary, Molly Gillaspie. “The bill stipulates that the student must provide written consent prior to receiving such credential. This will help institutions identify former students who are eligible for an associate’s degree at their institutions.”

According to Messer’s office, nearly 2 million transfer students nationwide between 2003 and 2013 were eligible for associate’s degrees but not awarded diplomas. Associate degree holders, on average, earn more in their lifetimes than high school diploma holders.

The national Education Commission of the States, a nonpartisan group that provides policy analysis and education research for all 50 states, says 16 states have adopted reverse transfer programs, some through state law and others through board policy.

Meanwhile, Indiana officials are studying the potential for expanding the practice statewide as a tool to increase the state's college attainment rate. There are estimated to be 750,000 Indiana residents with some college experience but no degree.

IBJ reported in August that Ivy Tech Community College under President Sue Ellspermann was pushing for the proposal, and that if it was more widely instituted, more than 1,000 former Ivy Tech students each year could be awarded degrees.

“We know there are thousands of students who are not getting this opportunity because they don’t know about it and don’t understand how easy it really could be,” Ellspermann said at the time. “It’s in the student’s best interest. They have earned it. They deserve it, regardless of if they’ve moved on.”

The Indiana General Assembly has tasked state officials to study the issue, charging the Indiana Commission for Higher Education to by Nov. 1 “study and make recommendations regarding the benefits of a reverse transfer policy for Indiana students.”

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