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Reverse Transfer Has Helped 1,400 Students Earn Associate Degrees in North Carolina

PCC graduate Melissa Long discusses North Carolina's reverse transfer program in a YouTube video produced by PCC Media Relations Specialist Alex Freedman. The video is featured on the University of North Carolina System's website.

Melissa Long Reverse Transfer Interview

WINTERVILLE—A reverse transfer program Pitt Community College piloted two years ago has helped more than 1,400 students earn associate degrees after transferring to University of North Carolina institutions.

Through reverse transfer, students can meet requirements for an associate degree by combining as many as 16 credits earned at their respective universities with credits they previously earned at community colleges.

“The reverse transfer program is essentially a partnership between North Carolina’s universities and community colleges,” said Pat Baldwin, chair of the PCC University Transfer and Foreign Language Department. “The universities send data on eligible students to the community college system headquarters in Raleigh, which, in turn, sends data to colleges, like PCC, to award associate degrees.”

According to PCC Dean of Student Services and Enrollment Management Joanne Ceres, Pitt has awarded associate degrees to 150 students through reverse transfer, with at least 20 more expected to complete degrees through the program by year’s end.

Former PCC student Melissa Long earned an Associate of Arts Degree through the reverse transfer program while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in public health from East Carolina University.

The 29-year-old Long, who earned her bachelor’s in 2014, says earning an associate degree gave her a sense of security and the knowledge that her efforts at PCC would not be wasted if she never earned a four-year degree.

“I learned a long time ago that life is going to happen, whether you’re ready or not,” she said. “So, even though I was going for my bachelor’s, it wasn’t a guarantee that I was going to get my bachelors. And it wasn’t a guarantee I was going to get it anytime soon.”

Earning an associate degree, says Long, also served as motivation for her to continue working toward a four-year degree.

“Sometimes, when you’re in the midst of getting to that bachelor’s degree, it seems so far away,” she said. “But you know if you hit this [associate degree] milestone, you’re about halfway there. … You’ve just got to keep pounding a little bit harder and you’re almost there.”

North Carolina’s reverse transfer 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 and Melinda Gates Foundation. The program has since expanded to include all 16 universities in the UNC System and all 58 North Carolina community colleges.

For students, the reverse transfer 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. Those 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 currently 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 long-term goal is to raise that number to 37 percent by 2025, which is also in line with the N.C. Community College System’s (NCCCS) strategic focus on student success, known as SuccessNC.

“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,” said Lisa Chapman, NCCCS senior vice president and chief academic officer. “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.”

Due to a variety of circumstances, such as a new 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, they can use those credits toward an associate degree, increasing marketability with employers.

Long says that having an associate degree can open doors for students who must work while pursuing a college degree, helping them gain ‘real-world’ experience. “You’re not just going into a job with nothing,” she said. “You’ve got that piece of paper ….”

UNC President Tom Ross and Interim NCCCS President George Fouts 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.