Reverse Transfer Programs Expanding in Texas Higher Ed

Students walking between buildings at Austin Community College - Eastview Campus.
Students walking between buildings at Austin Community College - Eastview Campus.

Late last month, Richard Rhodes, the president of Austin Community College, announced that he had struck a deal with the University of Texas at Austin to allow students to "reverse transfer" — to combine their community college and university credits and receive an associate's degree even after they have already transferred to a four-year university.  

In an interview with the Tribune, Rhodes said he is now in talks to create a similar arrangement with Texas State University in San Marcos.

The "reverse transfer" concept is a growing trend in higher education, and appears to be expanding in Texas as well. 

Prior to his move to Austin, Rhodes oversaw a similar partnership with the University of Texas at El Paso while he was president of El Paso Community College. The arrangement, which he said was spurred by the mutual dependency of the two institutions in isolated far West Texas, is often cited for pioneering the "reverse transfer" practice. 

"These are marketable certifications," Rhodes said of associate's degrees, "so why not award them to people who have earned them so that they have that credential on their résumé that means something to their employers?"

Getting that associate's degree credential to students who have already left ACC is not as simple as it might sound. 

UT-Austin has gathered data on students from the last 10 years who might qualify, but due to student privacy laws, those students must be contacted and provide consent before their information can be turned over to ACC for evaluation.

For current ACC students, the process will be more automated. When they register for courses, they will grant their college permission to receive transcript information from universities they might attend in the future, including UT-Austin. Students who can opt out if they so choose. 

With the help of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, such an opt-out provision also now appears on the Apply Texas applications that students use to apply to most public higher education institutions, making the process even easier and less dependent on partnerships between specific institutions in the future.

That a flagship institution like UT-Austin has taken a shine to the "reverse transfer" concept bodes well for its future. "Reverse transfer is an important step in our continued commitment to improve student success," UT-Austin President Bill Powers said in a statement. "Anything we can do to encourage undergraduate success and completion needs to be in the mix."

Students also expressed support for the concept.

"If someone is going for a four-year degree, there are many things that can happen along the way that could sidetrack their education," said Paul Samilpa, who attended ACC and UT-Austin and is now taking classes at ACC as he pursues a master's at Texas State. "If they could get that associate's degree, it's almost like a 'save game' point. I think it will actually encourage them to go further."

Rikki Santaella, a former ACC student currently pursuing a bachelor's degree in sociology at UT-Austin, said she is hopeful she might be able to take advantage of the program. She draws inspiration from her cousin, who she said received his associate's at EPCC after earning his bachelor's at UTEP.

"It's like a stepping stone to the next step. It feels good to have accomplished something," Santaella said. "I'd like to have something to show for all the time and money I put in at ACC."

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