ITP | Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due: Causal Impacts of Reverse Transfer Associate Degrees on Education and Labor Market Outcomes

September 16, 2022, Noon-1:30 pm Central Time

259 Educational Sciences and Zoom

Assistant Professor Taylor Odle, Educational Policy Studies


Assistant Professor Taylor Odle, Educational Policy Studies

Reverse transfer associate degrees are credentials retroactively awarded to current bachelor’s degree seekers that combine current four-year credits with credits previously earned at a community college. Providing students with an associate degree may not only increase motivation and persistence en route to completing a bachelor’s but may also provide important labor market benefits byway of increased marketability and earnings potential. Leveraging administrative data from Tennessee matched with records on its statewide reverse transfer program and a difference-in-differences design, we find reverse transfer degrees generally have little impact on students’ short- and intermediate-term academic outcomes (GPA and bachelor’s degree attainment) and labor market outcomes (employment and earnings). Our findings contrast those of existing descriptive works on reverse transfer that reported large benefits for students, due in part to our methodological improvements and more robust data. Because our methodology effectively compares outcomes for observationally equivalent students, some of whom were granted a credential upon completion of at least 60 college credits and others not, our null effects on earnings indicate that returns to an associate degree are driven by human capital gains rather than signaling in the reverse transfer student population.

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