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Many high school graduates these days start their college careers at a community college and then transfer to a four-year institution to get their bachelor’s degree. But what if they don’t finish? In New Jersey, that usually means they wind up with no credentials, not even an associate degree.

The state’s higher education leaders have recognized this and are working hard to correct the problem.  Last year, they joined with government leaders to issue a comprehensive report on college affordability that included 20 recommendations for changes to the system.

According to the final report of the Higher Education Affordability Study Commission released last fall, “Through the adoption of reverse transfer policies, institutions of higher education can assist non-completers in acquiring a valuable credential for academic work already completed.”

Lawmakers have already acted on the associate degree issue.  Legislation sponsored by Assembly members Marlene Caride and John McKeon and Senators Sandra Cunningham and Nellie Pou passed both the Assembly and Senate on June 22 and heads to the Governor’s desk.  NJBIA supports the measure.

“Higher education is one of the pillars of New Jersey’s economy,” says NJBIA Vice President Andrew Musick. “Our businesses need a highly skilled workforce to compete nationally and globally, and an affordable, quality post-secondary education provides students with the skills they need. This bill will prevent talented people from falling through the cracks simply because they don’t have a degree. ”

The bill requires each institution of higher education to enter into a collective statewide reverse transfer agreement so a student enrolled in a four-year institution of higher education who has a cumulative total of 66 credits earned between a county college and the four-year institution may be awarded an associate degree by the county college.

Reverse transfer agreements can help former county college students acquire a valuable credential for academic work they have already completed.  An estimated 1.2 million people have acquired more than 60 college credits but still have no degree, associate or otherwise.  The problem stems from the fact that county college students who transfer to four-year institutions without first earning an associate degree are not counted as county college graduates.