Credit transfer: Good as gold for Indiana families

Cost-saving option is a key to ensuring our success in today’s globally competitive environment

By Thomas J. Snyder, President

Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana

There are many different lessons that can be learned from watching the Olympics. One thing stays true, however, from event to event: it’s not where you start that matters. It’s about where you end up. Athletes come from a wide variety of backgrounds, and few lead their event from the start, but none of that matters nearly as much as where they cross the finish line.

This year, I was struck by the fact that what holds true in the Olympics also applies to college. After all, when it comes to higher education, it’s not about where you start. It’s about where you end up. Every student who leaves with a credential is a winner, regardless of how he or she got there. And as more families come to this realization, it’s changing the pathway to college completion—in ways that have lasting benefits.

For some students, the goal is a credential from Ivy Tech Community College. Equipped with an industry certification or two-year associate degree, they’re ready for the workforce. They finish as likely—and often more likely­—to have rewarding careers than many students who complete bachelor’s degrees. Our graduates are winners in their own right.

For others, however, the race is a little longer, and the goal is a four-year degree. For some of these students, the tried-and-true course is to begin at the same college where they intend to finish. Others, however, have discovered that they’re much better off starting at Ivy Tech and then transferring credits toward a bachelor’s degree. They’re coming to realize, that is, that completing their first two years at Ivy Tech and then transferring to a four-year institution does not change the end result—while providing substantial benefits along the way.

What are the advantages of starting at Ivy Tech? First, students who complete an associate degree and then transfer, often outperform freshmen who start at a four-year college or university. Taking classes close to home at an Ivy Tech campus allows them to retain the support of family and friends while adjusting to the rigors of college classes. In addition, those who are undecided on a career can take foundational classes and explore their options when it comes to choosing a program.

There’s one benefit that truly stands out, however—something that is becoming more important every day. Those who start a four-year degree at Ivy Tech then transfer their credits enjoy significant cost savings—up to thousands of dollars in avoided costs associated with tuition, fees, and housing. Talk about going for the gold: during the 2010-11 academic year alone, Indiana families saved more than $32 million dollars just in tuition costs as a result of starting at Ivy Tech. Approximately 11,000 students transferred Ivy Tech credits to other colleges in 2010-11—a 25 percent increase over the previous year.

There’s a good reason why credit transfer is becoming more popular. Today, the traditional four-year residential college experience is out of reach for many middle class families. The average American college student, for example, incurs more than $26,000 in student loan debt. Faced with that reality, families simply have to explore other possibilities. Like the world-class athlete who invests more time in training to get an edge, families—who know a college degree is the key to a fulfilling career—are investing more time to find a solution that works for them.

This shift has tremendous implications for the state of Indiana and our nation as a whole. We’re in a global competition where the stakes are high—and this time I’m not referring to the Olympics. Today’s economy is a global economy, and our employers will only be able to thrive if they have access to a world-class workforce. To ensure that we can compete, we need college-educated workers—including those equipped with credentials across a continuum that includes industry certifications, associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees, and beyond. The single greatest barrier preventing us from making this a reality is the rising cost of college. Transfer is only one of the solutions, but it’s critically important that we see it as an option of first choice and not a last resort.

It takes four years for Olympic athletes to prepare for their events. When students prepare to start a bachelor’s degree, they also have four years of training ahead of them. In either case, what matters most is where they end up. We should do everything we can, therefore, to ensure that our students get to the finish line—regardless of what course they choose.

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