Stopping the Clock: Colleges Under Fire Over Transfer Credits That Don't Count

Tim Goral's picture
Monday, March 25, 2013

As March Madness gets under way, a less widely noticed kind of intercollegiate competition is forcing students to churn endlessly through the higher-education system, wasting their own — and taxpayers’ — money.

In this game, the players score but it doesn’t count.

That’s what happens when students earn academic credit at one university or college, then try to transfer to another, which won’t accept it — even within the same states and systems. The result is that students end up spending far more time and money trying to finish their degrees, assuming that they even stick around to bother.

It’s a spectacle that may not have gotten as much attention in the past as NCAA basketball, but fed-up policymakers are starting to push for changes in the rules.

“One of the most common complaints a legislator gets from a constituent about higher education is, ‘My credits don’t transfer,’” says Davis Jenkins, senior researcher at Teachers College, Columbia University, who has studied the issue.

“This is so common, but it’s heart-rending,” Jenkins says. “And it also pisses me off as a taxpayer.”

That’s because the problem is as costly as it is unnoticed.

A third of students now transfer sometime during their academic careers, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center says, and a quarter of those change schools more than once.

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