A national model to boost degree completion?

In March, Colorado passed bipartisan legislation that would improve the state’s transfer policies and help students apply the credits they’ve earned at their previous institution to their current major, Inside Higher Ed reports. The legislation, Senate Bill 164, which Colorado Governor Jared Polis is expected to sign, may lay the foundation for a national model to help increase college completion rates among transfer students, experts say. 

Fall 2023 saw an increase in the number of undergraduate students transferring to new institutions nationwide, and more high school students are earning college credit through dual enrollment before they enroll in a higher education institution. Transferring from two-year community colleges to four-year colleges has also provided a more affordable pathway to a bachelor’s degree for low-income and underrepresented students.

“Transferring college credits is becoming more and more common as students look for opportunities to save time and money in their higher education careers. However, it’s currently a confusing and time-intensive process that, when done incorrectly, can result in students losing a full semester of credits,” state Senator Janet Buckner and co-sponsor of the bill, said in a statement to Inside Higher Ed. “My hope is that this commonsense, bipartisan bill will stand as an example for other states so that we can improve educational attainment and economic mobility for students across the country.”

Senate Bill 164 updates state policies to catch up to the increase in transfer students, the different ways students are now earning their degrees, and the challenges those students face in transferring their credits to new institutions.

Related: A push for more effective, equitable transfer pathways >

Streamlining the transfer process

The new legislation strengthens Colorado’s credit transfer policies in four ways, says Inside Higher Ed. First, it guarantees in-state students that credits they earn at one institution toward 40 popular majors, including business, education, and engineering, will transfer with them to their new institution and count toward their major. This update would close a loophole in the existing state’s transfer pathway system, in which college registrars can accept those credits as electives without counting them as progress toward the student’s degree requirements.

“It’s an issue that can specifically hurt low-income students, minority students, and first-generation college students who are more likely to start their undergraduate studies at a community college,” John Mullane, president of College Transfer Solutions, tells Inside Higher Ed. “This clarifies that they must apply those courses directly to the student’s bachelor’s degree.”

The second and third provisions of the bill require institutions to inform students of the denial or acceptance of their transfer credits within 30 days of receiving students’ official transcripts and admission materials, and to implement a standardized appeals process for students whose credits are initially rejected.

The bill’s fourth and potentially most important requirement, says Mullane, is that each state college must submit annual information on the number and types of students who have transferred and the credits it has accepted and rejected. The policy, the first of its kind in the nation, increases transparency in the transfer process and encourages schools to accept more credits.

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