Broad Transfer Policy Offers Pathway to Lower Student Debt

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A piece in The Wall Street Journal on August 14 entitled “Student-Loan Load Kills Startup Dreams” investigated the impact of rising college costs, noting that average student loan debt in the U.S. has hit $40,000, a staggering amount that has nearly doubled over the past decade.

There have been many factors attributed to this deepening crisis from rising tuition costs to financial aid changes. However, one aspect that is often overlooked in the debate is the valuable role of transfer credit.

As Excelsior Life reported back in February, Excelsior College’s median student loan debt is just $9,600 per student. Several factors contribute to the cost experience of Excelsior’s graduates, including the College’s broader transfer acceptance policy and its multiple pathways to a degree completion.

Golden Grad Chained To Education Debt In the 2012-2013 academic year, Excelsior accepted more than 671,000 college-level credits in transfer on behalf of more than 15,800 newly enrolled adult learners in its undergraduate programs. These faculty approved credits came from a variety of sources, including other colleges and universities, ACE-evaluated programs offered by industry, the professions and the military, and ACE-evaluated college-level examination programs. The economic value of the credit the College accepted in transfer – a tangible savings to students – was approximately $262 million, based on its credit-hour cost.

The college refers to this savings as its “Knowledge Value Index.”

By accepting academically valid credits earned elsewhere toward an Excelsior degree means these students, their families and benefactors – including federal and state sponsored grant and scholarship programs – did not have to pay for them a second time.

With student debt continuing on a trajectory many experts believe is unsustainable, the interesting question to follow over the coming years will be whether other colleges will begin to follow the distance learning institution’s lead.

“Transfer credit policies can either recognize the value of demonstrated prior learning outcomes or become an additional artificial barrier to degree completion,” said William Stewart, assistant vice president for Institutional Advancement at Excelsior. “A broader policy may reduce overall income per student if fewer credits are taken at the receiving institution. However, at Excelsior, it’s our mission to remove obstacles, such as limited transfer credit, to the educational goals of our students. With 36 million adult American’s with some college credit but no degree, imagine how much lower the cost of completing a degree could be nationwide, not just at Excelsior.”