Arkansas has received a $500,000 grant to help students who have transferred from community colleges to four-year universities complete those degrees, officials with Arkansas Department of Higher Education and the Arkansas Association of Two-Year Colleges and legislators have announced.
The grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Helios Foundation, Kresge Foundation, Lumina Foundation, and USA Funds is a part of a multi-state, $6.4 million initiative, "Credit When It's Due: Recognizing the Value of the Quality Associate Degree."
The "Credit When It's Due" grant supports a broad plan that involves all the state's colleges and universities in doubling the number of degree holders in state by 2025, a challenge made by Gov. Mike Beebe in 2011.
"This is a great opportunity to add one more part to our Student Success Center aimed at improving retention and graduation rates," said Dr. Ed Franklin, president and CEO of the Arkansas Association of Two-Year College. "This grant will not only benefit the student , but will benefit the state as we produce more graduates which in turn will demonstrate the readiness of our workforce to potential employers."
This initiative was also a recommendation contained in the Access to Success report, produced by the Arkansas Task Force on Higher Education Remediation, Retention and Graduation Rates, chaired by Rep. Johnnie Roebuck of Arkadelphia.
"There is a direct correlation between educational attainment and economic prosperity. Encouraging students working on a bachelor's degree to apply completed credits to earn an associate's degree or certificate is a bold step toward economic growth. I commend ADHE and AATYC for this initiative," said Roebuck who also serves as co-chairperson of the Higher Education Subcommittee.
"It has always been a challenge to reward the academic success of students who, for whatever reasons, attended multiple institutions," said Sen. Johnny Key of Mountain Home, member of the Higher Education Subcommittee. "Through this grant, we can develop an innovative process to identify these students and award them a degree consistent with the academic work they have completed, thereby giving them a credential that has value in the workplace."
The grant will provide funds to create the structure necessary to award associate degrees to transfer students when the student completes the requirements for the associate degree while pursuing a bachelor's degree. This practice is commonly known as "reverse back" or "reverse transfer."
Community colleges and universities in Arkansas have transfer policies and legislation in place to enact an automatic statewide reverse transfer credit system but have lacked the necessary software and training for a large-scale program.
The "Credit When It's Due" funds will be used in Arkansas to:
- Develop and implement a web-based, interactive credit tracking and reverse transfer notification application
- Implement statewide rules and guidelines for automatic reverse credit transfer
- Identify and remove any remaining institutional barriers to a statewide automatic reverse transfer system
- Train academic advisors, faculty, and staff within the two- and four-year colleges and universities in "Best Practices" in promoting and advising students on reverse transfer
- Promote "Reverse Transfer" and the value of an Associate's degree to two- and four-year students and their families
"We believe these students deserve full credit for their achievements," said Shane Broadway, ADHE interim director, "and all the privileges that come with an associate's degree, which has proven to be very valuable in the labor market."
The ADHE is responsible for carrying out the policy directives of the Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board, approving and reviewing college and university academic programs and developing funding recommendations for the state's 11 public universities and 22 public two-year colleges as well as several other post-secondary entities. In addition, the agency is responsible for distributing approximately $170 million annually from state revenues and lottery funds intended to ease the financial burden of students seeking an education beyond high school.