By Tim Gorrell, Executive Director, Ohio Tuition Trust Authority
In case you weren’t aware, it’s National Transfer Student Week. You might be wondering what transferring college credits has to do with saving for college. The reality is that the amount of credits that a student can transfer, from a lower-priced institution to a higher-priced one, can significantly lower the costs of a higher education.
In an average year, around 30% of college students transfer some amount of college credit between institutions of higher education. If you look at the national average price of a three-credit hour course at a community college, which costs $474, versus the average price of a three-credit hour course at a four-year institution, which costs $1,344, it’s easy to see that the $870 savings, per course, can add up quickly.
Over the last 15 years, as college enrollment numbers have dropped, higher education institutions have had to start thinking differently about where to find their future students. This has led to a wider acceptance of transfer students. To help facilitate schools’ goals, institutions have created transfer centers on campus, reached a broader range of transfer agreements with other schools, and have dedicated resources specifically to help transfer students succeed.
Just like saving for college, the key is to start the planning process as early as possible. If a student is starting at a community college, they should tell their academic advisor that they eventually want to transfer. That way, the student’s advisor can set them on a path to transfer in their first semester. Once a student knows to where they want to transfer, they’ll need to contact their home school’s transfer office (usually in the registrar’s office) for advice on how they can prepare themselves for success. The student will also need to contact their future school’s transfer office for their recommendations and transfer policies. Students also need to be diligent when choosing their courses. Taking prerequisite courses, beginning-level major courses, and finishing series courses (calculus I & II, English I & II, etc.) is a good way to set yourself up for success.
Taking general education courses over the summer at a lower-priced community college or university is a great way to save money and potentially set yourself up to graduate early. Students will need to contact their home school’s transfer office to find out with which schools they have transfer agreements. Students will then need to find out which courses are guaranteed to transfer and apply toward their degree.
Another avenue is the transferring in of previous life experiences for credit. Prior Learning Assessments (PLA), aims to evaluate one’s life learning outside of a traditional educational environment. College credits are usually earned in one of two ways. One way is credit by exam, like tests created by the College Level Examination Process or CLEP. The other way is through a portfolio that contains a student’s applicable education learning. Members of the military and veterans can also turn their military experiences into credit. The American Council on Education (ACE) created college credit recommendations surrounding the Joint Services Transcript (JST), which is used by the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and the Coast Guard.
Other resources can help a student make sure their college course work will transfer. National transfer databases that house transfer agreements, like Transferology, are a great place to see which courses transfer on a regional or national level. State-level transfer pathways are geared for public colleges and universities and lay out the ways courses and chunks of degrees will transfer within that state’s educational system.
While transferring credits from one institution to another isn’t always as seamless as it should be, it has the potential to help families stretch their college savings further than they thought possible. If a student is deliberate with their actions, diligent in their research, and open in their communication, making the transfer process work for them shouldn’t be a problem.
About the author:
Tim Gorrell is the executive director of Ohio Tuition Trust Authority. For more than 30 years, Ohio Tuition Trust Authority has sponsored and administered Ohio’s 529 College Savings Program, CollegeAdvantage. Ohio’s 529 Plan oversees more than 680,000 accounts and over $14.38 billion in assets as of June 30, 2022. Visit CollegeAdvantage.com or call 1-800-AFFORD-IT (233-6734) for more information.