Transfer Students:

Postsecondary Institutions Could Promote More Consistent Consideration of Coursework by Not Basing Determinations on Accreditation

GAO-06-22: Published: Oct 18, 2005. Publicly Released: Oct 18, 2005.

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Each year thousands of students transfer from one postsecondary institution to another. The credit transfer process, to the extent that it delays students' progress, can affect the affordability of postsecondary education and the time it takes students to graduate. Seeking information on the processes and requirements that postsecondary institutions have in place to assess requests to transfer academic credits, Congress asked GAO to examine (1) how postsecondary education institutions decide which credits to accept for transfer, (2) how states and accrediting agencies facilitate the credit transfer process, and (3) the implications for students and the federal government of students' inability to transfer credits.

When deciding which credits to accept from transfer students, receiving institutions consider the sending institution's type of accreditation, whether academic transfer agreements with the institution exist, and the comparability of coursework. However, institutions vary in how they evaluate and apply a student's transferable credits. Many officials from postsecondary institutions with regional accreditation told GAO that they would not accept credits earned from nationally accredited institutions. To streamline the transfer process, most institutions have transfer agreements with other institutions that generally provide for the acceptance of credits from the other institution without further evaluation. In some instances, institutions review student credits--not rejected for other reasons, such as accreditation--to determine comparability to their academic offerings. State legislation, statewide initiatives, and the accreditation standards that accrediting agencies set help facilitate the transfer of academic credits from one postsecondary institution to another. Among other things, states support the establishment of statewide transfer agreements, common core curricula, and common course numbering systems. Accrediting agencies facilitate the transfer process through the standards they set. The accrediting agencies that GAO reviewed generally adhere to the principle that institutions should not accept or deny transfer credit exclusively on the basis of a sending institution's type of accreditation. A student's inability to transfer credit may result in longer enrollment, more tuition payments, and additional federal financial aid, but current data do not allow GAO to quantify its effects on the students or the federal government. Data are not available on the number of credits that do not transfer, making it difficult to assess the actual costs associated with nontransferable credits.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Matter for Congressional Consideration

    Matter: In order to ensure consistent consideration of students' previous coursework, Congress may wish to consider further amending the Higher Education Act of 1965 to require postsecondary institutions eligible for Title IV funding to not deny transfer credits on the basis of the type of accreditation.

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Congress enacted the Higher Education Opportunity Act (P.L. 110-315) in August 2008. The Act includes a provision requiring institutions to have a clearly stated public disclosure of their transfer of credit policies, including a statement of whether the institution denies transfer of credit solely on the basis of the accrediting agency or association that accredited the institution from which the student is transferring.

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