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Credit transfers help control cost of college

When it comes to higher education, it’s not about where you start. It’s about where you end up.

Every student who leaves with a credential is a winner, regardless of how he or she got there. And as more families come to this realization, it’s changing the pathway to college completion – in ways that have lasting benefits.

For some students, the goal is a credential from Ivy Tech Community College. Equipped with an industry certification or two-year associate degree, they’re ready for the workforce. They finish as likely – and often more likely – to have rewarding careers than many students who complete bachelor’s degrees. For others, however, the race is a little longer, and the goal is a four-year degree. For some of these students, the tried-and-true course is to begin at the same college where they intend to finish.

Others, however, have discovered that they’re much better off starting at Ivy Tech and then transferring credits toward a bachelor’s degree. They’re coming to realize, that is, that completing their first two years at Ivy Tech and then transferring to a four-year institution does not change the end result – while providing substantial benefits along the way.

What are the advantages of starting at Ivy Tech? First, students who complete an associate degree and then transfer, often outperform freshmen who start at a four-year college or university. Taking classes close to home at an Ivy Tech campus allows them to retain the support of family and friends while adjusting to the rigors of college classes.

In addition, those who are undecided on a career can take foundational classes and explore their options when it comes to choosing a program.

There’s one benefit that truly stands out, however—something that is becoming more important every day. Those who start a four-year degree at Ivy Tech then transfer their credits enjoy significant cost savings – up to thousands of dollars in avoided costs associated with tuition, fees, and housing.

Talk about going for the gold: during the 2010-11 academic year alone, Indiana families saved more than $32 million just in tuition costs as a result of starting at Ivy Tech. Approximately 11,000 students transferred Ivy Tech credits to other colleges in 2010-11– a 25 percent increase over the previous year.

There’s a good reason why credit transfer is becoming more popular. Today, the traditional four-year residential college experience is out of reach for many middle class families.

The average American college student, for example, incurs more than $26,000 in student loan debt. Faced with that reality, families simply have to explore other possibilities. This shift has tremendous implications for the state of Indiana and our nation as a whole. We’re in a global competition where the stakes are high. Today’s economy is a global economy, and our employers will only be able to thrive if they have access to a world-class workforce. To ensure that we can compete, we need college-educated workers – including those equipped with credentials across a continuum that includes industry certifications, associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees, and beyond. When students prepare to start a bachelor’s degree, they also have four years of training ahead of them.

In either case, what matters most is where they end up. We should do everything we can, therefore, to ensure that our students get to the finish line – regardless of what course they choose.

Thomas J. Snyder is president of Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana. He wrote this for Indiana newspapers.