North Dakota University System (NDUS) launched the first of two initiatives last fall to increase degree completion in the state. The first initiative was to coordinate a system-wide effort to contact students who had previously enrolled at a NDUS two-year institution, completed a substantial number of credit hours, and had transferred to a four-year institution prior to completion of an associate degree.
The purpose of the initiative was to encourage students, for the betterment of their career, to complete the associate degree at the two-year institution so they would be able to have that accomplishment on their resume while still working toward their four-year baccalaureate programs.
Lisa Johnson, NDUS director of academic affairs, said, “Students have invested significant time and money in their initial pursuit of an associate degree. Our outreach is to those who have made substantial progress towards the award of an associate degree, but have transferred to a four-year institution prior to the award of the associate degree. Most notable about this initiative is that we aren’t asking students to physically return to the community college to complete the remaining coursework. Rather, our community colleges are working with students on an individual basis to determine remaining coursework that can be taken at the four-year institution and transferred back to the community college.”
The initiative was designed for students to complete and transfer coursework back from the four-year to the two-year institution—thus the name Reverse Transfer. Previously, reverse transfer broadly described students who withdrew from a four-year institution to pursue an associate degree at a two-year institution. Today, more formal Reverse Transfer initiatives encourage students to remain at the four-year institution while concurrently completing both an associate and a baccalaureate degree.
A second and more recent initiative has been developed at the request of NDUS campuses to identify and contact students who began their studies at any NDUS institution, completed a substantial number of credits towards an associate or baccalaureate degree and are no longer enrolled anywhere in the state.
Johnson said, “The success of initiatives like these rely heavily on committed staff who make the additional effort to follow up on inquiries and complement the system’s original outreach.”
Kene Miller, an academic records specialist at Bismarck State College, has been involved in both initiatives. Miller promotes the idea at her campus by emphasizing the phrase “life happens.” Miller said, “It may be a student’s intent to finish a four-year degree; however, it is not unusual that things occur that are beyond their control. By documenting the completion of a two-year degree, it is a permanent record of the student’s academic progression.” She continued, “Our campus strives to recognize students’ accomplishments and to award the important credential(s) that each student deserves.”
“According to Job Service North Dakota, annual average job openings for 2016 totaled 14,262 of which 4,117 typically required a credential beyond a high school diploma. Of the 4,117 job openings, roughly 34% required a vocational certificate, associate’s degree, or similar credential while the remaining 66% required a bachelor’s degree or higher.”
The NDUS, like many other institutions and educational systems in the United States, are stepping up efforts and outreach to encourage current and former students to successfully complete degrees along their educational pathway to ensure students are ready to be successful in their chosen careers.
For now, Miller’s efforts and those of the faculty and staff at BSC appear to be paying off—particularly surrounding the Reverse Transfer initiative. In the three terms since the initial planned pilot, each semester an average of 25 students have responded to the initial communication they received. Additional students continue to emerge and express interest in Reverse Transfer after learning about it via word of mouth. The NDUS will assess the success of the second initiative and the response of students who return to NDUS colleges and universities when more data becomes available.