Salem State students who began their college careers at Northern Essex Community College (NECC) or North Shore Community College (NSCC) will soon be able to receive their associate's degrees while still working toward a bachelor's degree through a new reverse transfer program.
The program allows students who transferred to Salem State from NECC or NSCC to apply for an associate's degree from their former institution once they accumulate a total of 62 combined credits. The hope is that the credentials from a community college will make it easier for students to find work while studying toward a bachelor's degree.
"It gives you a credential that might enable you to get a job that you wouldn't necessarily be able to get without your associate's degree," said Karen Cady, Salem State's associate vice president of marketing and communications.
Institutions in Texas, Michigan and elsewhere who have participated in similar reverse transfer programs have seen evidence of both increased retention rates at four-year institutions and higher rates of graduation from community colleges. UMass-Boston began a similar program with Massasoit Community College in 2011.
The University of Texas at El Paso pioneered the reverse transfer program with El Paso Community College.
"More and more institutions across the country are starting to look at this because of the success that the University of Texas has had," said Scott James, Salem State's associate vice president of enrollment management.
The program began its pilot run this past fall, and the presidents of the three universities will sign agreements to make it a permanent part of their programs over the coming weeks.
As of now the program is only open to students who are currently working toward a bachelor's degree at Salem State, but in the future could be open to students who earned the required number of credits for an associate's degree but are not enrolled at Salem State anymore. How long ago credits were earned and whether a student is still eligible for a retroactive associate's degree will vary, and will be decided by the community colleges.
"I imagine they might vary based on the discipline," James said. "Something in a high-tech field or in a medical field, the time limit might be shorter because they wouldn't want courses from 20 years ago with technology that's no longer relevant to count toward an associate's degree that they're going to award now."
At its annual Commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 19, NECC will present the first retroactive associate's degree to State Representative Michael Costello (1st Essex District) with a degree in liberal arts. After beginning his college education at NECC, Rep. Costello went on to receive a bachelor's degree from Salem State University cum laude and a law degree with academic honors from Suffolk University Law School. He is earning his associate's degree from NECC based on the courses that he took at Salem State after transferring there.