Episode 40: (College) Credit Where Credit is Due


​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Aired April 8, 2021

An ACE Task Force of college and university presidents and chancellors released a report last month offering recommendations on reimagining policies on transfer of college credit. Task Force members Anne Holton, professor and former interim president at George Mason University, and Anne Kress, president of Northern Virginia Community College, visit the podcast to talk about the report, best practices for transfer of credit, and helping students succeed.

Here are some of the links and references from this week’s show:

Reimagining Transfer for Student Success: The National Task Force on the Transfer and Award of Credit

Doing Transfer Right
Inside Higher Ed | March 29, 2021

ACE Issue Brief Suggests Framework for Campus Vaccination Requirement Questions

Likely Legal, ‘Vaccine Passports’ Emerge as the Next Coronavirus Divide
The New York Times (sub. req.) | April 7, 2021

Biden's Billions for Higher Ed
Inside Higher Ed | April 1, 2021

Colleges and Universities, Higher Ed Groups Call on Congress to Double the Maximum Pell Grant

Related posts from the Higher Education Today blog:

Innovating the Transfer Pipeline Through Regional Partnerships
Feb. 5, 2021

Pathways to Community College Transformation
Jan. 24, 2020

Hosts and Guests
Anne Holton
Professor, Schar School of Public Policy and College of Education and Human Development, George Mason University
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Anne Holton - Professor, Schar School of Public Policy and College of Education and Human Development, George Mason University - Guest
Anne Holton
Professor, Schar School of Public Policy and College of Education and Human Development, George Mason University
Anne M. Kress
President, Northern Virginia Community College
Read More
Anne M. Kress - President, Northern Virginia Community College - Guest
Anne M. Kress
President, Northern Virginia Community College

 Read this episode's transcript

Jon Fansmith: Hello, and welcome to dotEDU. The higher education policy podcast from the American Council on Education. On today's episode, we're going to be joined by two very special guests Anne Holton and Anne Kress who are both members of ACE's taskforce on transfer of credit. But before we get to that conversation, I'd like to introduce my cohost, my delightful co-host, my esteemed co-hosts Sarah Spreitzer and Mushtaq Gunja. Hello, treasured colleagues. How are you today?

Sarah Spreitzer: Wow, we're really laying on thick today, Jon. I'm a little nervous.

Jon Fansmith: I am mostly trying to draw out this introduction as long as possible to make our producers exceptionally nervous. That's a little inside joke, for people listening, but how are you both?

Mushtaq Gunja: I am good. I spent the weekend watching a lot of college basketball, both men's and women's. I watched a lot with my kids who I have trained to yell, "Madness," anytime somebody makes a shot in the last two minutes and in both the Stanford South Carolina game and the UCLA Gonzaga game, there were a lot of shots made in the final couple of minutes. So we are all screamed out.

Jon Fansmith: Yes, it was a very entertaining a weekend of basketball. Sadly, as we record this national championship game was last night, which did not quite live up to the run-up to it. But we have a new national champion.

Mushtaq Gunja: Well, Jon, the men's championship game with last night, that was not that exciting but the women's game was fabulous.

Jon Fansmith: Fantastic. Very good point.

Mushtaq Gunja: Our president Ted Mitchell was very happy because the Stanford Cardinal came out victorious and he and his family have long and deep roots with Stanford. So a good week in the basketball all around.

Jon Fansmith: Sarah, since you clearly weren't watching basketball, were you doing anything at all?

Sarah Spreitzer: No, actually enjoying the end of the cherry blossoms in Washington, DC. Avoiding the tidal basin, but admiring the cherry blossoms in my neighborhood.

Jon Fansmith: And speaking of cherry blossoms, a gift from a foreign nation. Few things happening as we approach the fall involving foreign students coming to this country. Did you like that segue?

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah, that was a great transition. It made me wonder if we need to report the cherry blossom trees on our section 117 Foreign Reporting. Yeah, well, I think this goes along with kind of the larger conversation everyone's having about the fall. We saw this week that Cornell and Rutgers announced that students would have to provide proof of vaccination returning to campus, and more importantly for international students, they're going to have to demonstrate that they received a US approved vaccine. So it's unclear how that's going to impact international students. But we had sent a letter about three weeks ago to the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security about thinking forward in the fall and how to get our international students here, if our campuses are able to reopen. We're having a lot of follow-up conversations, but really, it's very dependent on health and safety and because a lot of the vaccine rollout and what's happening with infection rate is based country to country, it's very difficult, I think to figure out sort of broadly what's going to happen.

So, for instance, we've heard from the State Department that they're having conversations country to country about travel restrictions. We currently have an exemption for students who want to travel from Europe to the United States, if they're holding a valid student visa and our students are allowed to travel to Europe if they have a valid visa to go study. But it's harder in the other countries. I think it's interesting because I think there's a lot of countries that are nervous about accepting US visitors, right? Our infection rate is a lot higher than other countries. So, we're going to continue to monitor that very closely. The biggest thing is whether or not our consulates can reopen in a lot of those countries because they're going to have to process the student visas and schedule interviews for new applications. It's just unclear when that's going to happen or what the timeline is going to be.

Jon Fansmith: Sarah, I know you will be tracking this very closely, not just as an expert in the area and as part of your professional responsibility, but to see if you can actually get your long delayed family vacation to England off the ground this year.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah. I'm starting to have a lot of doubts about that and whether I need to just scrap that and try and find a beach house at the end of August. But yes, I think everyone's wondering what's going to happen with travel plans. Jon talking about the vaccine, I know that our general council just put out a great brief regarding kind of an outline on vaccine requirements and what campuses can expect in the fall or if they're considering requiring vaccines, what that means for their campus. I know we'll post that on the podcast webpage.

Mushtaq Gunja: Yeah. The short answer on that, I think is that it's complicated, and if you're looking for sort of a clear yes or no, yes, we can definitely require vaccines or no, we definitely cannot. you're not going to find that. Instead, you're going to find a whole lot of nuance and a great set of questions for campuses to ask themselves as they're thinking about whether they want to and can require vaccines to come back on campus. So yeah, there's an added layer of complication with our international students, but I think our campuses have a whole lot of thinking to do before the fall on the domestic side as well. I mean, luckily, it's a good problem to have, right? Because it looks like our vaccine rollout in this country is going exceptionally quickly. I think I read this morning that we're up to 3 million doses a week. I'm sorry, 3 million doses a day and maybe...

Jon Fansmith: Over four on Saturday.

Mushtaq Gunja: Yeah. I mean, it's just remarkably good. So let's hope that that infection rate comes down a little bit with all these vaccines that are going out. Hey, Jon, what's going on with infrastructure.

Jon Fansmith: It's infrastructure week, yay!

Mushtaq Gunja: Is it actually going to happen? What is happening?

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, I laugh because this is sort of a running joke in Washington, but really it's been infrastructure week. It looks like it's going to be infrastructure month for the next couple of months. The president sort of rapidly following up on the American Rescue Act which was the emergency relief bill, lots of money for COVID testing and vaccinations and things like that, including $40 billion for students in colleges is following that up with a massive $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal. Sarah, I would encourage to jump in, a lot of this money is going into the areas of research and innovative new fields. It's across a lot of different areas, but I think the thing that really struck me when I looked at it, is how much of this is touching on higher education in different ways. So, there's research money and historically lots of R&D money finds its way to campuses because we do the research, but there's very specific portions of it for scientific research and infrastructure and especially scientific research infrastructure at HBCUs and other MSIs, support for research at those institutions, workforce training programs that are specific to community colleges and that other colleges may also participate in. Then even a pool of infrastructure funding, $12 billion just for community colleges.

So really it's a $2.3 trillion bill, the Biden team summary of it, which is really a paragraph or two for each thing runs about 25 pages. It's a huge, complicated thing, but point by point by point, when you walk through it, higher education pops up in one way or the other, just sort of really demonstrating how inextricably linked our institutions are to any economic recovery. So it's an impressive proposal and it's the president's proposal and now it goes to Congress and who knows what's going to happen when it goes to Congress. It's a much less certain future than the last bill was that's for sure.

Sarah Spreitzer: Well, it really is. It seeks to make historic investments in areas that I think would reshape parts of US society, almost like the new deal. When you look at the research money, it's $250 billion overall for research. Some of that money would go to infrastructure, for labs and research facilities especially at HBCUs and MSIs, but then there's also historic investments in things like climate change research. And some of it is also kind of a wish list for this White House. I don't know, both of you have probably been reading about how it's been perceived by the progressives, that they believe that it doesn't go far enough and that you could actually triple, quadruple it, in order to kind of make that a historic investment on a lot of those priorities.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. Which it's important to keep in mind too, this is the first of two of these infrastructure bills. This one's really focused on physical infrastructure. So there are lots of things about clean water systems and broadband access across the country. Transportation is a huge element of it, building roads and highways and rail lines and things like that. The second piece, which we may be seeing details of as soon as next week, that's sort of the current rumor that the administration will start releasing those details next week, is more of a human infrastructure component, workforce development and capital improvement in our workforce. That's the one I think very famously people have probably already heard of. This was leaked a while ago, that there'll be two components of that. The first, probably the most attention getting that in our world is free community college, a federal free community college state partnership program. But also along with that, actually a partnership program to make tuition at HBCUs and other MSIs, either wholly or mostly free for students. So it's a really huge, would represent a quantum leap forward in the federal government's role in funding higher education, even if it's not the full and Sarah's thoughts about progressive sort of prompted this, is not the full goal of some folks on that side, that would be free universal college, but it's a massive step forward. Again, another huge investment in higher education that we'll be seeing in relatively short order.

Sarah Spreitzer: That's next week, we're going to see details along with, right, the skinny budget.

Jon Fansmith: Skinny budget is this week, supposedly.

Sarah Spreitzer: Oh, this week? Okay.

Jon Fansmith: It was supposed to be last week, now it's supposed to be this week.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah, and that's the president's budget proposal for the annual appropriation bills. Then also coming out is, we are likely going to see some sort of massive China bill in the Senate being put forward by majority leader, Chuck Schumer which is going to seek to make an enormous investment to kind of out-compete China in the area of research and development by really increasing funding at the National Science Foundation and creating a new technology directorate. But along with that, I think for universities, we may see some legislation regarding section 117 Foreign Gift Reporting, more provisions around Confucius Institutes and requirements for institutions that have Confucius Institutes. Then finally, I'm tracking really closely and I'm worried that we may see some things around student visas. So we're going to have to watch that very closely and obviously we don't have the bill text yet. It's going to be introduced probably next week and it's just going to be massive and it's unclear what the House is going to do. But it's going to be a busy week next week when Congress comes back.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. A lot of big things in the pipeline. The one thing I think that as we talk about all these different proposals and large spending areas and support for higher education that we haven't seen yet, that we are still hopeful may work its way back into the conversation, is doubling the Pell Grants. This is not new to people listening this podcast, we've talked about this a bunch of times. But ACE worked with a lot of other organizations to put together a letter to send to Congress and just share our views on the importance of doubling Pell, really as the critical component, the first step in making college affordable for students. I'll say to both of you now that the letter is done and out, I was kind of shocked at exactly the response we got. We put these letters forward a lot of times and you'll get 50 associations on an association letter one, or you'll get a few hundred institutions that might join the letter that's open to those institutions. On this one, we had a little under 1,200 total signers, over 300 organizations, nearly 900 colleges and universities signed on. It was an amazing response. I think it's one of those things where it was such a strong response, it's a pretty telling statement about how universal the support is for this. How well understood the importance of making Pell Grants, restoring their ability to help low income students access and afford colleges and how that's not something that's one sector of higher education or one group of people, there's no split view on this. Groups that honestly on that list, never agree on anything, agree on this.

It was really great to see and really great to be a part of. So, that letter is up on our website. I'm sure we'll link to it on the show notes for this. But hopefully that'll help start moving that policy discussion in that direction and we'll have better and more news to report on that later. There is so much to talk about guys, but I don't think we really have enough time to cover everything else, especially since we have a really, really, I think engaging conversation about an issue that's very much in the public's attention, especially after the pandemic, a transfer of credit and the results of the ACE task force. So we're going to be joined by Anne Holton and Anne Kress to talk about those issues in greater detail in just a few minutes.

Welcome back. We are joined by our very special guests today, Anne Holton and Anne Kress. Dr. Kress is the president of Northern Virginia Community College. Anne Holton is the former president of George Mason university and currently a Professor in Education and Policy there. More importantly to our discussion, or maybe not more importantly, but certainly more central to our discussion today, you're also both members of the National Task Force on the Transfer and Award of Credit, which was convened by ACE around transfer of credit in higher education. We know this because we had a conversation before we started recording this conversation about this. One of the things that struck me when we were just talking to you and getting some background, is you both have these really, I mean, rich and diverse educational backgrounds and professional backgrounds, that in a lot of ways, at least to my mind, made you uniquely suited to serve in these roles. I thought maybe a great place to start was sort of give you the chance to talk a little bit about how you both came to this and touch on your background, and what's led you to inform your participation in this task force work. Either one can go first. Maybe it's easier if I direct it, but feel free to jump right in.

Anne Kress: Sure. Well, I'll start, this is Anne Kress, I should say. I've been working in community colleges my whole career. Transfer is incredibly important to community colleges. It is important to our students. The vast majority of students who start in the community college have a goal of completing a bachelor's degree which means that transfer is part of what they're looking for. So, I've worked in community colleges in the state of Florida, in New York and now in Virginia. What's interesting is that every single state, those transfer a little bit differently, hence the work of this taskforce and why it's so important. It is also incredibly institutional dependent, so I've discovered that. But the one thing that I would put at the center of this is the student, right? I've worked with students my whole career, some of whom have been able to transfer very easily. Some of whom have lost credits. I've seen what that does to their own timeline for degrees. So this is really a passion of mine.

Anne  Holton: Yeah, Jon, I'm happy to jump in. I am newer to higher ed policy than Anne Kress and have loved learning with her, including on this taskforce. My background in K-12 education led me to a role as the secretary of education in the Commonwealth of Virginia in 2014 through 2016. Prior to that, I worked briefly in the community college system in Virginia, so got a little taste of the community college perspective. Then have been at George Mason University since then with a one year interim role as president of George Mason University, the largest and most diverse public university in the Commonwealth of Virginia. I had the opportunity partly because I was interim there, I think the ACE folks asked me and Tim White, who was soon to be a Emeritus as chancellor at the CSU system to lead the task force, thinking we might have some time on our hands in our former roles.

Jon Fansmith: Maybe a little more freedom to speak to in the former role.

Anne  Holton: There you go.

Jon Fansmith: Always a benefit. I think one of the things you've both touched on and Anne K, just for ease of reference, this idea of being student centered, which comes up in so many contexts in higher education is really frankly, a very positive development when you're thinking about sort of institutional practices. But particularly this idea of student centered around some of these transfer of credit, I think you could think of as sort of a kind of an academic procedural thing, but the importance of it goes way beyond the administrative process, right? It starts to touch on these issues about completion and affordability and equity in higher education. Anne, can you talk a little bit about either both through your own experiences and your experiences on taskforce, how this work has touched on those issues?

Anne Kress: Sure, absolutely. I'll start with a story. So I've been at NOVA which is what we call Northern Virginia Community College for a little bit more than a year. When I was going through the interview process for the presidency, I would encounter students who were part of the advanced partnership that we have with Mason, and I'm sure we'll touch on that. But the one thing every single student said to me, when I said, "Where are you transferring?" And they would say, "I'm going to Mason. I'm part of advanced, 100% of my credits transfer." That was the one thing consistently that they said. To me, that's everything. Because what you've really heard from students then is how important that is.

We tell students, start at a community college, it's more affordable, it's more accessible, but if at the end of the day, you're going to lose credits on transfer, maybe the advice that you got wasn't as strong as it could have been. So you took classes that aren't going to transfer and you could have known that. I think that's really when we start to hit into affordability issues, equity issues. When we understand that the majority of students at NOVA for example, are Latin X and African-American and Asian. So we are a very diverse institution, that students who are looking for that equity and access to education, frequently will start at community colleges, but if they can't move those credits forward then that's a challenge. I think that's one of the things that the task force really honed in on. Is that, this is an equity concern, it's an affordability concern for us to get this right, community college to four year college, four year college to four year college, it's going to impact our students' future in very real ways.

Anne  Holton: I love Anne's example of that. I love your story Anne, because one of the things that shows is the importance of transparency. I got to tell you that most students at most community colleges, when they start out know nothing about transfer of credit. They're not even thinking about it. It's not on their radar. So obviously your NOVA counselors, not only are doing a good job, helping make their credits transfer, but also helping students be aware of those issues, so as they make their own decisions about course selection, et cetera, they've got it on their radar. I'll just chime in to your question Jon with saying, I think one of the biggest changes and exciting changes in higher education over the last few decades has been the great expansion of access to low income students and students of color. That's been a great thing... first gen students as well. But a huge part of that growth has been the explosion of the community colleges. Most community colleges are less than 50 year old construct and within the last few decades have grown exponentially and a lot of that growth has been low-income students. So we're telling everybody, now you got to do something post-secondary. Actually, for a long time there, we were telling everybody, you got to do college post-secondary, and yet that's not accessible financially for many people. So low-income students go to the the easiest point financially, starting out at community colleges. Great place to start, but only if it's a place where you can successfully finish a degree there. And if it is your goal to transfer on and successfully finish at a four year. So there's transfer of credit issue is right at the heart of that.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. We talked in the intro about doubling Pell as a component of affordability, right? Doubling Pell by and large, would make most community colleges essentially free if you have a $13,000 Pell Grant. Community colleges are already remarkably affordable and so you talk about this transfer. I was struck Anne Kress about the point of students who knew 100% of their credits are going to transfer. I assume that has some implication on their choices too, that if they know that that's a possibility, then they're thinking about moving to, not just entering the higher ed space, but sort of moving through it. Has that been the experience you've seen or is it helped shift students' choices?

Anne Kress: It does shift their choices. Just yesterday I was talking via Zoom with our student government leaders. These are top performing students, admittedly, but we were talking because a number of them are graduating, where are they going to transfer? They could talk knowledgeably about how they were making choices based on what would transfer. That I think is really, really important for all of us to understand. Because that says that this is one, it should be part of the culture, right? Advising and making sure that advising was part of the task force recommendations. That students, they're not born knowing this as to your point. They don't walk into community college knowing this, but these were students who had met with advisors who helped them understand what their transfer pathway might look like. To me, that's an indicator of that transparency, that ability for students to access information about affordability, all of that builds in to the equity concerns when you think about what Anne Holton was saying about first-generation students. These are not students who can turn to their parents or turn to an aunt or uncle and say, "Can you explain to me how transfer works?" They really needed advising to really help them move forward.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah. I actually transferred from a community college to my four year, decades ago, right? I relied so much on help from folks at both institutions. If I hadn't had that, it would have been incredibly difficult. But it also took a lot of effort on my part to make those connections. So you're right. Anything you can do to help make it easier for students that just helps so much. Both of you kind of referenced this at the beginning that the work of the task force started pre pandemic. A lot of the issues that you're looking at are things that higher ed has grappled with for a long time. But now we're kind of looking at the post COVID, post pandemic landscape, did COVID, was that taken into consideration when you were doing the work? Are there things that could be applied from this report in greater ways, post COVID on campuses? Just thinking about that, because knowing that your work started pre COVID and now the report has come out as campuses are looking to reopen, does that change how campuses might use the report?

Anne  Holton: I'll take a stab at that, but first, let me just say Sarah, congratulations. I love telling my undergrad students that the smartest students in the room, in my undergrad classes, are the students who've transferred from NOVA and I can prove it, because they're the ones who are going to graduate with the least debt. They've figured out the best financial plan to get a four-year degree. So if you can make it work, just start at the community college and then transfer successfully. You are the star star kid in my class.

Sarah Spreitzer: It was the best decision I could've made. It was just great. I still tell folks, if you can go to the community college, especially if you're unsure of what you're going to study or how you're going to fit in at a four year institution, it's just a wonderful experience.

Anne  Holton: So to your COVID question, I would say it's impacted higher ed in so many ways at all of our institutions. But relevant to this topic, I think one of the things that's highlighted is how mobile our students are. That was true already. So one of the studies that ACE shared with us on the task force showed that almost 40% of students starting at, I think the study was from 2011, starting at a four year institution, I'm sorry, starting at any institution of higher ed in 2011, almost 40% of them accumulated credit at two or more institutions and sometimes, or more, within their six years after 2011. So students are mobile to start with, and then the pandemic absolutely shot that up with students wanting to stay closer to home, just making choices dictated by geography because of the pandemic. So the mobility of students and the mobility of their credit acquisition has only been accentuated as with many things by the pandemic.

Anne Kress: So I would add that I think one of the things we thought about as the task force was all of the data as well about how the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on certain communities. So when you, again, look at students who are much more likely to start at community colleges much closer to home, it probably has had a disproportionate impact on them as well. Getting transferred right, becomes ever more important. The more students are going to start closer to home. They may have more financial challenges than they ever could have imagined to be able to, again, work together a partner institution to partner institution, to smooth that pathway so that, to Sarah's point, you don't have to do as much of the heavy lifting yourself, would be incredibly important any time. But I think especially now it's more important than ever.

Mushtaq Gunja: So we've referenced this task force that both of you were members. So thank you so much for all the hard work. I remember, I think that first meeting was the last big in-person meeting that we had at ACE. If I remember correctly, it was either late February or early March, but I can remember it because it's the last time I saw anybody in person, it feels like. But the work that the task force did is incredible. I read the report sort of cover to cover and we'll make sure to link to it in our show notes. I encourage everybody that's listening to this to at least read the executive summary, which I think is fantastic. There are concrete recommendations in that report for our presidents. I wonder if you might want to just briefly outline what some of those recommendations are for the audience, and maybe we can dive into a couple of them. So Anne Holton, do you want to take the first crack?

Anne  Holton: Yeah, sure. So there are six key recommendations and Anne Kress, if that's okay, I'll do the first three and let you pick up the second half. The report expands upon the substance of these recommendations and includes some really terrific examples of universities taking concrete steps towards each of them. That's kind of the structure of the recommendations in the report. So condensing them immensely into a phrase each, the first is just to prioritize and embed transfer into your institution's culture. I would say that's one of the things I'm proudest of that we've done at Mason, where we have over half of our incoming students every year come from transfer. It just means that there's no stigma. There's just a whole setup from orientation forward. They are part of our community. That can be more challenging if your transfer numbers aren't so big. But embedding it deeply in your culture and celebrating it right from the get-go that's prioritizing transfer is the number one recommendation.

The second one is basically to do an end-to-end review of your policies to make sure you're doing everything you can to remove unnecessary barriers. One of my favorite but sad examples on this, is one where institutions sometimes let their own short term interests conflict with students' interests. That's where universities charge release transcripts, because students owe some small debt. So recognizing, we want to keep all our students with us forever until they're done, but for whatever reason many of our students are going to transfer outwards. When we hold up their transport for a $25 fine, that they didn't remember they had from the library or even a 50 or $100 obstacle, it's such a short-sighted approach. So that's the number two, is to remove unnecessary barriers. Look at all your policies end-to-end. The number three is leverage technology to improve consistency. There was some research done as part of the taskforce work on some of the great technology tools that can help.

Anne Kress: I'll pick up from there. So number four is around transparency, which we talked a little bit about already. What I would really underscore, it's transparency in how credits will transfer. So too often, students will take an English class and it doesn't transfer as an English class, it transfers as an elective. Which is great, but then you end up with this bucket of electives that maybe exceeds even the number of electives you should have upon transfer. So it really is around improving the transparency, so that as a student who's going to transfer to university X, I know my courses, as students will say, and their nomenclature count. Does this course really count for something? That's I think a recommendation that I would really underscore.

Also dedicating the resources necessary to ensure quality advising. We talked about that but advising that across the institutions, right? So that the advisors are talking to each other on a regular basis. That they're checking in with students at critical points in their journey, that's so important. It's important for the students. It's also important for the universities. I've been in states, for example, where students might've thought they were transferring to institution Y, but they actually heard from the advisors from institution X much more frequently, and they changed their plans. So, it is potentially a place where universities could lose transfer enrollment if they're really not building those connections as seamlessly as possible. For example, in the advanced pathway that we have with Mason, we have shared coaches that work with students. So they know exactly, it's a very smooth transition, it's a very firm handshake. The students are moving forward. Then the last is to partner with your most frequent either a transfer to, or transfer from institution. You can't boil the ocean. All of this takes a lot of work. When you look at your data, you know that there are probably two or three community colleges that transfer to you or universities that you transfer your students to. So really sitting down with them, bringing faculty together, bringing an advisors together, it's not just president to president, our leadership is always important, but we could say we have a great transfer pathway, but the folks who are really doing the work on the ground know that there's a lot of bumps in that road. It's getting those folks together to help smooth that pathway, because you're going to impact the greatest number of students. We send thousands, thousands of students to Mason every single year. So sitting down with Mason made a huge amount of sense for us.

Anne  Holton: You send students elsewhere and we receive students from elsewhere, but if we smooth our pathways, number one, we're helping a huge number of students that way. And number two, what we learn from working with you helps the community college students, at least from all over Virginia. Likewise for you, I'm sure it helped split up...

Anne Kress: Yeah. I would just add, the structure that we built with advance, for example, Mason's looking at using it with other community colleges, we're looking at using it with even existing transfer agreements that we have to add those additional components that seem to be making a big difference for our students. Those coaches, that information flow, that ability for students to really think of themselves as university students from day one at NOVA.

Anne  Holton: Meanwhile, the rest of our Commonwealth is building on our experience. So Virginia has a unified community college system or at least somewhat centralized community college system. Whereas, our four years are loosely coordinated by our SHEEO. But our SHEEO and our community college system office are working at promoting pathways approaches all across the Commonwealth and using Mason's and NOVA's partnership experience through advanced to help guide that work.

Sarah Spreitzer: That kind of gets at the more complicated issues like reverse transfer. I know we talked about that a bit, a student not transferring from a community college to a four-year, but perhaps going from a four year to a community college or having multiple credits at multiple institutions. Is that something that the task force looked at?

Anne  Holton: Yeah, absolutely. Actually there's another twist though, I think they call them the swirlers in the report. So the student that may be at the four year, but looking to pick up some credit during the summer more economically, and while they're at home or maybe a course that the community college has more offerings on in the summer, might take a credit or two during the summer and transfer it back. So yes, absolutely. That's how you get to these high numbers of students who are getting credit more than one institution by including all of those different paths. Oh, and the other thing the report did address is credit for prior learning outside of traditional institutions. Which is a huge issue with students coming from which both of our institutions have, students coming from the military where they've taken courses that are for all intents and purposes, the exact same courses that we're offering and, or had work based experiences that would enable them to pass an assessment that would help them waive out of some of the introductory courses. The task force looked at all of those issues.

Anne Kress: I think especially with reverse transfer, one of the challenges, and I'm sure most folks who are listening to this podcast know this number, but it would be interesting to look at your census data about the number of folks in your community who have some college, but no degree. So that means they don't have an associate degree either. They don't have a college certificate. So they've got a bunch of credits that right now don't really add up to a marketable component when they're looking for a job. So I think that's the power of reverse transfer is the ability then to work with a transfer institution to say, okay, well, we both want to put this student. We want to put Anne at the center here. Anne doesn't have an associate degree or a baccalaureate degree, can we reverse transfer some of that credit to make sure that Anne has an associate degree going forward? So, I just want to bring us back to the fact that this task force was very student centered. Even though you had institutional leadership sitting around the table at the middle of the table, we were really talking about how can we better serve the students who come to our colleges and universities, knowing that they come to us with a goal of getting a degree, how can we make that possible for them?

Jon Fansmith: Anne, you raised reverse transfer, there's a lot of national policy discussion about a federal policy around reverse transfer. Certainly that's one small component of a lot of interest at the federal level about policy for higher education, with an emphasis on community colleges and pathways and other things. But the task force wasn't really focused on making federal policy. Sarah and I spent all of our time talking about federal policy, it's hard for us to imagine anything that's not focused on it, but that's not what you're actually working on, right?

Anne Kress: No.

Anne  Holton: Yeah. The task force assessment was to come up with recommendations for university presidents that university presidents could carry out. Now, they do have some implications for policy. I mean, one good news is many of these recommendations are ones that can be done without significant financial resources, but but at least one, the ensuring quality advising does take money. The community college system and our larger diverse institutions like Mason that aren't at the wealthiest end of the four-year scale have not always had the resources to invest in quality counseling. You can absolutely use technology, you can use efficiencies to get the most bang for your buck, but it is a people centered activity. And whether you're using professional advisors or a combination thereof, it takes time and time means money. Federal and state policy that helps support financial resources for counseling can over the long run, save money for students and therefore for both levels of government and the institutions by helping students get through more successfully. That would be one example, on my wishlist, for federal and state policy would be recognizing the need for counseling.

Anne Kress: I would say as somebody who's worked in Florida, which has a statewide articulation agreement, which should, you could sort of say it's all done, but it was never done. Right? You still need those institutional relationships. You still need to mind changes that are happening in colleges and that students might want to transfer to if a student wants to go. For example, I worked at Santa Fe Community College, now Santa Fe College in Gainesville, the student wanted to go study business at the University of Florida. Those requirements might look different than they would at FSU. And the pre-professionals might look different that they would be to take locally. So you can never just sort of push it off and say, well, policy is going to take care of this. It is still a people business. Our institutions are too idiosyncratic, I don't think we would want to change that and make everyone uniform. But we do want to, again, just really focus on the student and smooth those pathways. I would just go back to, that's the power of having those relationships with the largest either taker or provider of your students because those relationships are golden.

Jon Fansmith: We're definitely hearing that play out between your two institutions too, as you discuss these examples. I know we're running a little short on time but there's a couple of things I just feel like I have to get to. We've talked a lot about the benefits to students in terms of affordability and when we talked about that resources for policy makers. How much you spend to get a student through and we're talking about money generally, but there's another huge resource that students invest in higher education, which is their time. Maybe touch on, if you could, a little briefly about the advantages to students, time to degree and time to completion of understanding these transfer pathways and how that sort of accelerates that other big challenge, which students face as they move through higher education.

Anne Kress: Well, I'll just say, most community college students do not attend college full time. From the very beginning, then you have a two-year degree that could have taken four years or six years. If you think about the importance and the value of time for that student then to potentially lose any credits or have to retake classes upon transfer, that extends what should be theoretically, a four year degree even further, right? The two year part has already taken six years. You don't want the other two years to take another six years, and then it's 12 years to a bachelor's degree. So again, that transparency, the advising, all of that is incredibly critical to make sure that student's time is valued and that they don't, again, as students will say, waste time.

Anne  Holton: Well, and, and I would say, yes, time is absolutely money. It's not only how quickly you get the degree, but whether you get the degree. So if you just think of the affordability issues for, if you think of paying for four years of college, which we all know most students take more than four, but even just think of the crucial four, 15 credits a semester, easily students are losing as much as up to 15 credits from credits not transferring towards their major. So add a semester, you've done all your financial planning, you think you know how to pay for eight semesters of higher education and then, oh, by the way, you need money and time for a nineth. How many dropout and how many don't complete and end up as Anne said, in that awful category of lots of debt, no degree? One thing now I want to be sure and highlight is the work that our faculties have done, this advanced pathway that we've referred to at several points has many components. But one of the crucial ones is the work that our faculty say, that engineering, you might think one of the harder pathways, but when the Mason faculty sit down with the NOVA faculty from the engineering departments both places, and say, "If your introductory course includes X, Y, Z, we will credit it fully." it's granular, it's hard work, it takes time, but it's part of the magic.

Mushtaq Gunja: This feels like the hardest thing to me and it goes to this culture point, which is the first recommendation. How did you get your faculty to sort of come along when faculty holds so tight often to, that their way of teaching or what they have covered is sort of the gold standard for what needs to have been covered? How did you loosen them up?

Anne  Holton: Well, the easy answer is it happened before either of us was in our positions. But I would say, and Anne, you may have thoughts on it too, but I would say part of it was the culture. And part of it was a top down leadership commitment and commitment even to financial resources. So we paid faculty for summer time to meet with the faculty across those two institutions. That's actually something Virginia's done some little mini grants to faculty at other universities to recognize that, Oh, it's not that you just wave a wand, it actually takes real work from the faculty and compensate that and honor it and appreciate it. That certainly helps.

Anne Kress: I think you start with that coalition of the willing. So advanced now has a hundred plus transfer programs. It started with one. With one transfer program. So getting those faculty from departments at the community college and at the university who had an interest in sitting down and working this out for students, and then they modeled what other folks could then step in and see, Oh, okay, this is how you do that. It also, isn't done. We meet annually to bring these groups together just to refresh, make sure that we're on the same pathway. Is there any program that's not part of this that we would want to add? So it is a living thing, right? These transfer agreements, they need tending. You can't just sign something in a ceremony and put it on the shelf and think, Oh, now it works for students. It really does need that constant people attention.

Jon Fansmith: Please go ahead.

Anne  Holton: Take it back to where we started. The transfer culture, it just matters so much. So, our engineering dean and his faculty were very committed to this right from the beginning. They were some of the early pathways. It was because they were getting the students from NOVA anyway, but not necessarily getting them in the shape to be ready to graduate. So they wanted those students to be successful, this was the way to help them succeed.

Jon Fansmith: That is amazing. And we will put links to the advanced program in the show notes for the for the podcast. But before I let you go, sorry, one more thing. Our audience are college university presidents, senior administrators, are there particular things you would recommend to them as they sit here listening to this and thinking, what should I be doing on my campus right now to improve our understanding of transfer of credit, improve our student centeredness in this area? What do you have for them? Tell them what they need to know and what they need to be doing.

Anne Kress: Well, I would say, I started with students. I would strongly encourage every president, every senior leader who's listening to bring back some of your students who have transferred and ask them about the process. Ask them to share what worked and what didn't. Because too often, especially in our offices, we think that things are going really smoothly and we don't see all of our people, our faculty, our staff at our institutions, at the transfer institutions, our students are really kicking hard below that water. That's what I would say is, bring back some of your transfer students. Have a conversation with them. They will give you many insights into what you could be doing better and what through appreciative inquiry you should do more of.

Anne  Holton: I will say, read the report, or at least read the executive summary, which is very doable. That's your 10 minute read as a president and then send it to your leadership team to read the whole report and tell them you want a report back from them in so many days on what's the first thing we're going to tackle. What's the one that makes the most sense at your university. We do have such diverse institutions and some of these may speak more to some than others, but with the examples, with the concrete suggestions there, I think there's something for everybody.

Jon Fansmith: I promise I wasn't taking you up to say read the report, although I do obviously agree wholeheartedly that's a great thing to do. I want to thank you both so much for taking the time today. It's abundantly clear to me and my co-hosts and for everyone listening to this, the connections between the two of you and your institutions and the expertise you bring to this, that it is such a successful program is the work of people like you, who are invested in making it happen and so thoughtful about it. So I'm sure there are many, many, many appreciative students and faculty and staff behind you in that regard. But we are also very, very appreciate for having you today and having you take the time. So, thanks. You're always welcome back anytime you'd like to come back.

Anne Kress: Oh, thank you.

Anne  Holton: Thank you. Thank the ACE staff who did all the heavy lifting on the taskforce too.

Anne Kress: Absolutely.

Jon Fansmith: We certainly will. Thanks again. To listen to earlier episodes and subscribe to dotEDU, you can find us on Apple Podcast, Stitcher, Google Podcast, and wherever you get your podcasts. For show notes and links to resources mentioned in the episode, you can go to our website at acenet.edu/podcast. You can also use our email podcast@acenet.edu for suggestions for upcoming shows or guests you'd like to see, or just thoughts on how we're doing. Before we go. I'd like to thank Carly O'Connell Laurie Arnson, Audrey Hamilton, and Malcolm Moore for the exceptional producers of dotEDU and make us sound as good as we do every episode. Finally, I'd like to thank you for listening.

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​Each episode of dotEDU presents a deep dive into a major public policy issue impacting college campuses and students across the country. Hosts from ACE are joined by guest experts to lead you through thought-provoking conversations on topics such as campus free speech, diversity in admissions, college costs and affordability, and more. Find all episodes of the podcast at the dotEDU page.

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