Reverse College Transfer


The third type of transfer is the reverse transfer. Reverse college transfer is defined as transferring from a university or 4-year institution to a community college or 2-year institution.

Students are likely to choose reverse transfer when they feel overwhelmed in a university and decide to transfer to a community college and complete an associate degree. However, the rules remain the same, the most efficient type of transfer will be between public institutions within the same state and across institutions accredited by the same type of accrediting agencies.

Reverse transfer was found to be the most inefficient one, with students reporting the largest credits loss during the process. Specifically, about 22 credits were lost during the reverse transfer process. Moreover, 66% of all students engaged in reverse transfer lost all their credits earned at the sending institution (NCES, 2014).

Therefore, students engaging in vertical transfer (from community college to university) have a higher likelihood of transferring all credits earned at the sending institution (provided the presence of articulation or institutional agreements as well as similar types of control and accreditation). However, students engaging in horizontal or reverse transfer are more likely to lose a large portion of their credits, if not all of them, during the transfer process (NCES, 2014).

As noted before, credit loss during transfer carries significant costs. Inability to transfer all the credits completed at one institution to another one delays graduation, entry into the job market, and the ability to realize a return on the college education investment. Each additional year spent in college 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 a person’s lifetime.

Here are some strategies on how to alleviate credit loss typically associated with reverse transfer:

  1. Check the types of transfer agreements between the two institutions.
  2. Check the website of the destination institution for transfer requirements.
  3. Contact an academic adviser at the destination institution early in the process to gain a better understanding of which courses are more likely to transfer.


One final note on reverse transfer: the definition of reverse transfer has evolved over time. The reverse transfer definition that I used up to here entails transfer from a university or 4-year institution to a community college or 2-year as provided by the National Center for Educational Statistics report. However, the Education Commission of the States (ECS), the agency that keeps track of all the articulation agreement (state level transfer agreements) across all states defines reverse transfer as “retroactively granting an associate degree to students who have not completed the requirements of an associate degree before they transferred from a two- to a four-year institution.” To see which states follow the definition set forth by the ECS and under what conditions go here.

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