Colleges and states have made significant progress in making it easier for students to transfer their academic credits from one institution to another, though some problems remain, a panel of college leaders and state officials said at a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee hearing on Thursday.
The vast majority of discussion at the hearing of the House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on 21st Century Competitiveness focused on improvements in moving students from two-year institutions to four-year public and private ones, and on whether the federal government should get more involved in hastening further improvements (the general view: No), and if so, how.
Perhaps the biggest surprise at the hearing was how little was said about the most contentious transfer issue that the committee is grappling with as it prepares to renew the Higher Education Act this year: concerns that students transferring from for-profit college are being unfairly denied admission to nonprofit colleges purely because of who accredits them.
The education committee's Republican leaders have emphasized this issue in many of their public comments about the Higher Education Act, and the legislation they have introduced to reauthorize the law would prohibit colleges from rejecting transfer students solely because they come from institutions that are accredited by national or specialized accreditors, as most for-profit colleges are. The bill, H.R. 609, also would require colleges to track the rates at which they admit students transferring from different kinds of institutions and make that information public.
Rep. Howard P. (Buck) McKeon, chairman of the House subcommittee, mentioned the issue in his opening statement, saying the bill aims to ensure that credits "are not unfairly and arbitrarily denied based solely on the agency or assocation that accredits an institution." Beyond that and a few other scattered comments, though, the for-profit question was largely ignored.
Committee aides noted that the panel had held a hearing last year in which students and officials from for-profit institutions aired their grievances about the credit transfer issue, and that this hearing -- "College Credit Mobility: Can Transfer of Credit Policies Be Improved?" -- had a different agenda.
Most of Thursday's hearing focused on state efforts in Ohio and Florida and the work of a national group known as the National Articulation and Transfer Network to encourage the smooth transfer of students. Nancy L. Zimpher, president of the University of Cincinnati and co-chair of a council that advises Ohio's Board of Regents on transfer policy, described her state's developing effort (now 60 percent complete) to ensure that every college in the state recognizes credits earned at any other. A representative of Florida's Department of Education described a similar initiative in her state, aimed at roughly aligning the content of comparable courses at different institutions.
Philip R. Day Jr., president of the City College of San Francisco, said he had helped to create the National Articulation and Transfer Network, and its Web-based portal, CollegeStepz, to try to increase the proportion proportion of community college students who go on to four-year degrees. More than 70 percent of two-year college students say they intend to earn bachelor's degrees, but fewer than 25 percent actually transfer, Day said, noting that the problem is particularly severe among underrepresented minority students.
Day said that if the federal government were to get involved in the credit transfer issue, it should encourage colleges "on a voluntary basis, not on a mandatory basis and certainly not with burdensome reporting requirements." Colleges and universities are already "getting the message" about the importance of credit transfer, he said. "If we hold their feet to the fire too much, they're not going to show up and do much at the dance."
The last witness, Jerome H. Sullivan, executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, warned that any federal efforts to ease the transfer of credits should not take away from individual institutions the right to decide the quality and rigor of the courses for which they want to give their students credit.