7 Reasons Why College Credits Don’t Transfer


College transfer can provide significant benefits when done well. However, when left to chance it can be fraught with problems. Today we discuss some of the issues related to college transfer and some of the most common reasons why credits don’t transfer from one institution to another.

  1. Institutions are in different states. It is not uncommon for students to want to transfer between institutions that are located in different states. The thing to keep in mind is that credit transfer in between institutions located in different states can be challenging. Higher education professionals are aware of this limitation and they are working to remedy that. Therefore, the Western Interstate for Higher Education set up the Interstate Passport Initiative to help with this process. To my knowledge this is the only initiative of this type so far.
  1. Institutions are accredited by different agencies. This post discusses institutional accreditation and provides guidance on how to find out the type of accreditation that your sending and destination institutions hold. The main thing to keep in mind is that the vast majority of credits, if any, often do not transfer between institutions accredited by different institutional accreditation agencies, i.e. between nationally accredited institutions and regionally accredited institutions.
  1. Transferring credits between public and private institutions. If the two institutions are not covered by some type of transfer agreement (articulation or institutional) it can be quite challenging to transfer credits between them. More details on transfer agreements here.
  1. Transferring without a degree. The majority of students transfer between institutions without a degree. Completing a degree (associate or certificate) ensures that all or the vast majority of credits transfer from one institution to the next. In other words, it is often easier for students to transfer credits that are part of a degree (associate or certificate) than just transfer credits earned at another institution without a degree.
  1. Transferring upper level credits. The college curriculum is comprised of two sections: lower level courses (freshman & sophomore years) and upper level courses (junior and senior years). Lower level courses tend to be covered by transfer agreements and hence they are easier to transfer than upper level ones. Check the transfer websites for the institutions to find out what courses are more likely to transfer.
  1. Programs are accredited by different institutional accreditation agencies. Accreditation agencies come into play again. This time we are referring to programmatic/discipline specific accreditation agencies. Specifically, most disciplines are accredited by discipline specific accreditation agencies, such as nursing, business, education, etc. To make matters more interesting each of these disciplines has a few accrediting agencies, 2 for nursing, at least 2 for business, etc. Transferring credits between (say 2 different business) programs that are accredited by different programmatic agencies can pose its own set of challenges.
  1. Horizontal and reverse transfer. These types of transfer tend to be the least efficient ones and students are likely to lose a lot, if not all, credits during the process. Click on links to find out more details on how horizontal and reverse transfer work.

It should be noted that credit loss during transfer carries significant costs. Inability to transfer all the credits between institutions delays graduation, entry into the job market, and the ability to realize a return on the college investment. Each additional year spent in college (after the 4 year mark) can cost up to $50,000 ($20,000 in tuition, fees, and living arrangements, as well as $30,000 in foregone income) and $150,000 over the course of a lifetime.

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