Relationship Synergy: Interstate Passport and The National Student Clearinghouse

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Interstate Passport Briefing
This is one of 8 articles in the August 2019 newsletter.

With more than one million students transferring each year and 31 million Americans with “some college, no degree,” the Interstate Passport initiative needed to develop both a rational basis to transfer prior learning and a mechanism to inform and improve the transfer process. With its access to transfer information and its matching mission to improve student success, the National Student Clearinghouse—a unique national asset—epitomized the logical and best-suited partner for developing a strong and continuous relationship with the Interstate Passport. The introduction below by Pat Shea, WICHE senior advisor, Academic Leadership Initiatives is followed questions on the relationship with the Clearinghouse answers coordinated by Rob Groot, director of Product Management for the National Student Clearinghouse.

In 2011, with funding from Carnegie Corporation of New York, academic leaders in seven participating WICHE states finalized the design for developing Interstate Passport’s proof of concept. They called for the program to be student-centered and faculty-driven, and to respect institutional autonomy, and to include quality assurance measures. The latter called for relying on faculty at each institution to determine how a student could achieve the learning outcomes while tracking student performance post-transfer using the principle of “trust and tracking.”

Registrars and institutional researchers from the same seven states worked together to design the tracking process. Utah State University graciously agreed to set up a data collection and reporting system model for testing the process with 16 institutions during the proof of concept work. We learned a great deal during our two-year testing phase with USU, including that to scale Interstate Passport participation nationally, we needed to find a national organization with the skill and expertise to automate the processes and handle data from hundreds of institutions. National Student Clearinghouse was the obvious and ideal solution.

In 2015, with funding from the U.S. Department of Education in a First in the World Grant supported out work with Clearinghouse subject matter experts and with WICHE states’ registrars and institutional researchers to further define the specifications for the tracking processes. Our goals were to automate tasks as much as possible by using Clearinghouse processes, that were already familiar to registrars and institutional researchers. 

To participate, institutions sign an addendum to their existing Clearinghouse agreement that gives permission to share Interstate Passport data among participating institutions. Thus, institutions submit data to the Clearinghouse and reports are generated by the Clearinghouse, not through WICHE. Also, the Clearinghouse sends aggregate data to WICHE annually for use in evaluating the overall effectiveness of the program.

Q1: How does the Interstate Passport/Clearinghouse partnership fit the Clearinghouse mission and vision? 

The mission of the National Student Clearinghouse is to serve the education and workforce communities and all learners with access to trusted data, related services, and insights. In doing so, we are proud to work with WICHE and other national education organizations in pursuit of making data actionable to build process and program improvements that facilitate better outcomes for students.

Just like WICHE’s Interstate Passport, the Clearinghouse aims to provide insights that allow institutions and organizations to deliver programs that improve graduation rates, shorten time to degree, and save money for postsecondary transfer students. The Clearinghouse wants to further education and enable the learner, and the Interstate Passport is a great method for the learner to have portability of their achievement between institutions. The partnership amplifies our mission at its core.

Q2: How did the partnership between Interstate Passport and the Clearinghouse develop?

It all started with WICHE Interstate Passport verifications with participating colleges. Because the Clearinghouse was an established trusted name for degree and enrollment verifications, this led to WICHE’s interest in using the same platform for their Interstate Passport verifications. Stakeholders from WICHE were very involved and hands-on throughout the project’s conception to ongoing activities in the creation of this unique partnership.

Most importantly, because registrars and institutional researchers are familiar with the Clearinghouse’s technology and benefits to institutions nationwide, it makes for a robust relationship that efficiently and effectively supports students with the transfer of their credits.

Q3: Many Clearinghouse reports provide information on transfer students. How important is it for institutions to understand transfer dynamics if school leaders want to improve student completions?

Understanding completions, transfers and persistence sits at the core of every institution in the nation. The Clearinghouse data provides a level of understanding and information that is unsurpassed and with that it allows decision makers and analysts in education to improve their programs continuously. It also helps identify trends in performance across colleges and enables sharing and learning best practices from all the participants.

For example, our report Transfer and Mobility: A National View of Student Movement in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2011 Cohort, which was released in 2018 and is our third report on transfer and mobility, examines multiple transfer pathways for the cohort of students who started postsecondary education in fall 2011. It analyzes student enrollment patterns across different institutions and across state boundaries, including, for the first time, disaggregation by race and ethnicity.

The report revealed that two-year institutions served almost 1.5 million students of the fall 2011 cohort, including those who started in two-year institutions and those who transferred. This figure represents more than half of the entire fall 2011 cohort and all transfers, indicating that two-year institutions not only served most of the starting cohort, but most of the transfer population as well. However, many two-year students who transfer from community colleges do so without a degree. Only 5.6 percent of this cohort transferred after receiving a credential from their starting institution, either a certificate or an associate degree. The vast majority transferred without a degree.

Our 2019 transfer report will come out this fall.

Q4: How quickly are the dynamics of student enrollment and transfer patterns changing?

The postsecondary and undergraduate enrollments are cyclical, but they are also influenced by other recurring factors as well. Among them is the economy, in which low unemployment rates make the job market more attractive for students than attending college. Also, regional population demographics affect the number of high school graduates. We also know that cost of attending an institution, the rise in students’ need to work and attend school at the same time, preparation for college and career readiness, declining international student enrollments and other contributing factors have a significant impact on enrollments.

The Transfer and Mobility report showcases that student mobility is complex and on the rise. This report helps institutions go beyond first-time, full-time cohorts to understand non-traditional students, part-time and full-time, who transfer in and out of multiple institutions. While enrollment and transfer patterns can be stable for up to several semesters, macro-economic events can also cause them to change quickly and significantly.

Q5: The Clearinghouse provides Interstate Passport with not just the statistics describing the changing nature of the transfer process but also is collecting and analyzing the post-transfer success information to be used for Interstate Passport quality control. How unique is this second part of the relationship?

The National Student Clearinghouse is committed to providing actionable data and insights that afford all education organizations, including WICHE, the ability to measure post-transfer success.  Clearinghouse data indicates that the national completion rate for the fall 2012 cohort of first-time post-secondary students is 58 percent. Black and Hispanic student total completion rates increased considerably, to 48 and 57 percent, respectively, for four-year starters. Our services provide institutions data, research and insights to support and strengthen those institutions that enroll diverse students to help close equity gaps nationwide, in urban, suburban, and rural areas in the United States. For example, the completion rate for Hispanic students who started at four-year public institutions increased 8.3 percentage points, from 55 percent at the end of six years to 63.3 percent at the end of eight years. This was the sharpest completion increase of any race and ethnicity group. In addition, institutions are actively seeking more data on learners who have “some college, no degree.”

In addition, as statewide adult education initiatives expand across the country, there is a subset of adult students who need particular attention when it comes to improving access to and success through postsecondary education: more than 31 million adults have “some college, no degree.” This is why we launched our Reverse Transfer initiative and will continue to partner with institutions that seek this student data from us to improve college outcomes for all students. Watch for our Research Center’s fall 2019 report on this topic.

Q6: What do you see for the future of the Interstate Passport/Clearinghouse partnership?

In the next few years, the education community will contend with the emergence of competency-based education, block chain, AI technology, and alternative pathways for students, among others.

It is also important to note that today’s students are more mobile than ever in obtaining the credentials they desire, and we foresee this trend to continue. They have gained credits at two or three institutions over time either in the classroom or online. It’s essential that students are awarded the credentials they’ve earned along the way. We see our continued collaboration through Interstate Passport as a mechanism to offer learners the opportunities to succeed in their academic journey.

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