Thursday, June 21, 2018
Education

USF, local colleges cooperate to award more associate degrees

TAMPA — You're filling out a job application. You don't have a bachelor's degree. You don't have an associate degree. But you do have credits at different schools, and that ought to mean something, so you write, "some college." In an employer's eyes, that might not count as much.

A new agreement between the University of South Florida and local state colleges aims to make it count. Students have long transferred coursework from, say, St. Petersburg College to USF. Under the new agreement, they could transfer work done at USF back to state colleges toward associate of arts degrees.

They're calling it a "reverse transfer." Presidents and representatives from USF, SPC, Hillsborough Community College, Pasco-Hernando Community College and Polk State College got together Monday at USF to sign the agreement into reality. In its earliest stages, it's expected to help hundreds of students.

"This is an important piece," said SPC president Bill Law. "It documents success. It gives us another way for a student to demonstrate what he or she has achieved. … All of us know life intrudes for many of our students, and it's never a straight line from one place to another, academically. If life intrudes and they don't have this, then they really have nothing."

The goal is to get more people holding associate degrees. They may be people who went to community college and transferred to USF just shy of graduation. Or they may be people who started at USF and left for community college. If the course numbers match and the student meets some criteria, the credits can transfer.

An associate degree might help students get a job and make more money — the Florida unemployment rate drops with each level of college degree. Educators also say it can help with a sense of pride and give them confidence to finish a bachelor's degree.

"Over 60 percent of our students transfer to USF," said HCC president Ken Atwater. "A lot of them transfer without degrees, so the opportunity to go back now and award degrees is only going to help them as they get involved in the labor market. But more importantly, we hope it'll be incentive for them to complete their studies at USF."

The partnership is part of a $6.4 million initiative that spans 12 states and is funded by five education groups, including the Helios Education Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It takes some manpower because the schools have to identify potential prospects, exchange student records, talk to the students and confer the degrees.

Higher education outfits in Tampa Bay have grown more harmonious. In 2011, USF and the colleges came together to figure out how to boost retention and graduation. In March, the schools joined the Tampa Bay Partnership to launch the Graduate Tampa Bay campaign aimed at getting diplomas to the 700,000 people in town with college credits but no degrees.

In January, the National Commission on Higher Education Attainment released a report urging colleges and universities to help students get all the way, not some of the way, to graduation.

"We as a region are working very hard to make sure that our adults have the degrees and the education they need," said USF president Judy Genshaft. "We know that helps our economy. We know that helps them with their own opportunities, through career, workforce and their families. It's a major part of what we do. If we can ease the access for our students, we're making a difference."

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3394.

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