Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Letter to the Secretary of Education on Credit Transfer Policy

WASHINGTON, DC (March 1, 2010)—Today, five leading higher education experts sent the following letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan urging him to address the problem of restrictive transfer policies with a view to increasing graduation rates. The signatories are Kevin Carey, Policy Director at Education Sector; Frederick M. Hess, Director of Education Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute; Anne D. Neal, President of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni; Mark Schneider, Vice President at the American Institutes for Research; and Richard Vedder, Director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity. The letter reads:

The Obama Administration has outlined its desire to promote student success in postsecondary education and to increase the number of students with postsecondary degrees. Currently, less than 60% of students nation-wide graduate in six years.

While there are no doubt many reasons for this low graduation rate, evidence suggests that problems in transferring credits may be a significant underlying cause. According to a recent report by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation, “a 1999 CHEA survey of college catalogs found that 28 percent of regionally accredited institutions contained language that transfer requests would be considered only from institutions that were regionally accredited. Another 10 percent contained language that transfer requests from institutions that are reviewed by national faith-related or national career-related accreditors would be considered, but that regional accreditation would be preferred.”

In a world where nearly 60 percent of college students can be expected to earn credits from more than one institution of higher learning, the institutional practice of privileging certain kinds of federally-recognized accreditors over others cannot continue. The students who are hurt most by difficulties in transfer are those with the least amount of advising, the least amount of money to spend. This is unconscionable.

A student’s inability to transfer credit may result in longer enrollment, extended tuition payments, and additional federal financial aid—at considerable cost to the student and the American taxpayer. And simply having institutions publish their credit transfer policies, as now required by the 2008 Higher Education Act reauthorization, is not enough.

Notably, the Higher Education Amendments Act of 1998 mandated the Education Department to conduct a study evaluating policies or practices instituted by recognized accrediting agencies regarding the treatment of the transfer of credits from one institution of higher education to another. The Department explored methodologies but never completed a formal study.

The General Accounting Office did, in fact, conduct a study in October 2005, concluding that postsecondary institutions could promote more consistent consideration of coursework by not basing determinations on accreditation. However, it concluded that data were not available on the number of credits that do not transfer, making it impossible to assess the actual costs associated with nontransferable credits—on the students or the federal government.

If we expect to improve student success, it is time to examine the process by which sending and receiving institutions manage the transfer function to ensure an easier and less costly progression by students. A credible study of the costs of restrictive transfer policies remains badly needed. With multiple providers and multiple modes of delivering higher education, it is essential that policies be in place that ensure students do not waste time—or taxpayer dollars—in obtaining postsecondary education.

As the Obama Administration turns its attention to increasing the number of students receiving college degrees, we believe a critical concern should be assuring a seamless transfer process. We respectfully request that you authorize the Department to undertake a high-priority and thorough study documenting the extent of the problem and identifying conditions and interventions that advance student success.

Please note that institutional affiliations of signatories are provided for identification purposes only; the views expressed are theirs alone. For more information on the signatories, visit their respective websites: Kevin Carey of Education Sector (; Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute (; Anne D. Neal of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (; Mark Schneider of the American Institutes for Research (; Richard Vedder of The Center for College Affordability and Productivity (

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