House Subcommittee Hears Views on Transfers

Publication Number 21 May 12, 2005

Four witnesses provided Congress with advice on federal policies and transfer of credit last week. On May 5, 2005, the witnesses told the House Subcommittee on 21st Century Competitiveness that barriers exist and that more could be done to assist transfer of credit. They emphasized different aspects of the transfer issue. They observed that transfer practices are complex and that academic considerations at the institutions demanded careful attention. All the witnesses expressed reservations about new federal mandates. Witnesses spoke of successful local and statewide transfer efforts and said that federal policies should encourage easing barriers to transfers. They also said that voluntary incentives for state and institutional efforts were the preferable approach in federal legislation on transfers. The witnesses were:

  • Philip Day, President, National Articulation and Transfer Network
  • Nancy Zimpher, President, University of Cincinnati
  • Teresa Klebacha, Director of Strategic Initiatives, Florida Department of Education
  • Jerome Sullivan, Executive Director, American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers

McKeon’s Views

Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA) called the hearing on “College Credit Mobility” to obtain expert testimony on transfer issues and the provisions of his bill, HR 609. His panel has jurisdiction over most of the Higher Education Act (HEA) Reauthorization. HR 609 contains several transfer provisions that have been controversial in many parts of the higher education community. The bill would require certain institutional policies on transfers and would bar institutions from specified practices. The bill mandates additional data gathering and reporting on transfer by institutions. It would also add new accreditor reviews of institutional transfer policies and practices.

Citing student mobility and non-traditional students, McKeon said that college students should transfer from one institution to another without unfairly losing credit for quality courses they have completed. He added that, “when institutional policies support the blanket denial of credit transfers, I believe there is something wrong. Artificial barriers to college credit mobility inhibit student completion rates and help drive up the cost of postsecondary education.” Referring to his bill, he stated “it is our duty and obligation to act to drive improvements to the current system to reflect today’s increasingly mobile student body.”

Witnesses Cited Their Experience

Zimpher told of home-state efforts in Ohio that were easing transfer, where over 400 faculty members worked together comparing curricula. Klebacha likewise explained Florida transfer activities, where 191 faculty committees in specific subject areas helped build a better statewide transfer mechanism. Both advised that states were the best locus of efforts to improve transfer of credit.

Day and Sullivan noted that extensive work at the local and institutional level was needed to sustain and enhance transfer. In response to a question, all the witnesses urged that federal policy utilize incentives for state coordination and institutional behavior and avoid both mandates for institutions and burdensome new reporting requirements. Day, who is also Chancellor of the City College of San Francisco, said that institutions needed to work hard with students to assist with transfer and that his students who complete their associate degree programs before moving on usually do better at four-year schools. The transfer network that Day chairs emphasizes help to minority and urban students, two groups seeking to improve success in transfer leading to four-year degree completion. Sullivan observed that provisions in HR 609 would bar institutions from using some of their normal criteria in evaluating transfer requests, and that this was a concern to his members and others in the higher education community.

Members Interested

Six other subcommittee members joined Chairman McKeon to make statements and ask additional questions. Tom Osborne (R-NE) told of his professional experience in coaching. Some potential transfer students were much better prepared than others, and it was difficult to sort them out. He said that many courses with the same designation were not equivalent. David Wu (D-OR) described articulation agreements in Oregon and asked about the faculty role in transfers. Tim Bishop (D-NY) asked if the transfer provisions of HR 609 were reasonable for institutions. One witness replied the data requirements were a problem and another witness said it was an issue that needed more study. Both repeated their preference for federal incentives and not mandates. Pat Tiberi (R-OH) asked about state legislation in Ohio. Zimpher replied that the state legislature’s interests had stimulated statewide collaborations and that this worked better than mandates.

Next Steps

At the conclusion of the hearing, Chairman McKeon said that the information was very helpful and that the Committee would review the provisions of their bill based on these views. He did not otherwise indicate anything about the timing or the content of the HEA reauthorization. The hearing on the transfer issues, their inclusion in the Chairman’s bill, and the wide interest of members all indicate that the House HEA bill in this committee will contain provisions of new federal law regarding transfer of credit from one institution to another. Following the hearing, leaders of several higher education associations expressed the hope that changes would be made in the transfer provisions in HR 609.