To help address the many challenges college students face when they move between institutions or attempt to transfer credits they have earned in high school or elsewhere, Ithaka S+R is launching a new, public, non-profit, national credit mobility website. This “universal credit transfer explorer” will go live later this year with data from an inaugural set of institutions across three states, thanks to collaborations with the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system, the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education, and the Washington Student Achievement Council. Unique among similar services, the site will show how credits earned elsewhere transfer and apply toward degree programs at the multiple destination colleges and universities featured on the site. This new resource and the broader Articulation of Credit Transfer (ACT) Project has been generously funded by the following philanthropic foundations: Ascendium Education Group, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Carroll and Milton Petrie Foundation, ECMC Foundation, The Heckscher Foundation for Children, and The Ichigo Foundation.

Today’s students are increasingly mobile, acquiring learning experiences from multiple sources and institutions. The growth of free tuition “promise” programs at community colleges, a surge in college courses taught in high school (dual enrollment), an increase in exams taken for credit, and the proliferation of validated learning from certificates, work experience, and military service all contribute to a vast array of potential college credit for students. Access to more options for college credit is a benefit for students, but transferring credits into and between institutions in a transparent and equitable way has proven to be a major challenge for higher education institutions.

A report released this month showed that only 16 percent of community college students complete a bachelor’s degree within six years, despite many years of nationwide focus on improving transfer pathways. Over one-third of first-time students transfer at least once during their academic journey, but often lose earned college credit when entering a new institution. Part of this credit loss can be attributed to lack of information about which credits will be accepted and how they will apply to degree programs. Without this vital information, students may be unable to make informed decisions about their education, resulting in potentially longer times to degree completion and additional costs.

Ithaka S+R’s new credit mobility website will connect students, institutions, and all those that support them with easily accessible, up-to-date, and accurate information on how credits transfer and count towards degrees. The website is inspired by and builds upon the groundbreaking CUNY Transfer Explorer (T-Rex) created by the City University of New York (CUNY) and Ithaka S+R, which has helped over 150,000 users explore, discover, and use the over 1.6 million credit transfer rules for the CUNY system’s 20 undergraduate colleges.

The first group of institutions to be featured as destinations on the new website will include: Aiken Technical College (SC), Central Connecticut State University (CT), Coastal Carolina University (SC), College of Charleston (SC), Connecticut State Community College (CT), Denmark Technical College (SC), Lander University (SC), Shoreline Community College (WA), Southern Connecticut State University (CT), and Washington State University Everett (WA). Expansion to additional institutions within each state–and beyond–will continue throughout 2024 and 2025.

Steve Marcelynas, Director of the Office of Transfer and Articulation for Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, noted that “as a system of six institutions that includes four universities, one community college with 12 campuses, and an online college, it is our priority to guide students toward academic success regardless of where they start their journey. Our partnership with Ithaka S+R aligns with our goal to enhance academic planning by providing students the resources they need to make an informed decision on transfer.”

“Lander has a long-standing commitment to transfer student success,” described Lloyd Willis, Dean of Graduate and Online Students at Lander University, continuing, “we are thrilled to be an early adopter of Ithaka S +R’s universal credit transfer explorer. We believe this tool will further enable prospective transfer students to make informed choices, and we look forward to helping them on the next step of their educational journeys.”

“We are committed to fostering student success in Washington State,” said Dr. Paul Pitre, Chancellor of WSU Everett. “Our engagement with the universal credit transfer explorer marks a significant milestone in our journey to empower students. This tool enhances their educational experience and ensures that each credit earned contributes to academic achievement and, ultimately, career and citizen readiness.”

Alex Tadio, WSU Everett’s Director of Admissions, agrees. “I’ve witnessed firsthand the challenges students face in transferring credits. This initiative represents a collective effort to streamline the credit transfer process, making higher education more accessible and efficient for students. We are excited to partner with regional institutions like Shoreline Community College to work toward breaking down barriers to education and ensuring every student has the opportunity to succeed, regardless of their starting point or destination in their academic journey.”

Much like CUNY’s Transfer Explorer, the new universal credit transfer explorer website will enable any user to investigate how courses and other learning experiences will count toward the requirements of degree and certificate programs offered by participating institutions. To provide this functionality, each participating institution is being supported to establish an automated data feed that regularly provides updated evaluated course and prior learning equivalencies, course catalog information, and program requirements from student information systems, degree audit software, and/or other relevant source systems. The institutions need only maintain their own source systems, and updates will be automatically and regularly reflected on the universal credit transfer explorer website.

The website is being developed and designed by JSTOR Labs, like Ithaka S+R a service of  ITHAKA, a non-profit organization. The data integration process from participating college source systems, including SIS and degree audit, utilizes the open-source CampusAPI services and Enterprise Integration Framework from the nonprofit DXtera Institute.

Connecting these vital pieces of information across multiple institutions will allow students, as well as the faculty and staff assisting transfer students, the ability to explore how their earned or planned credits will count toward their degrees. It will also provide institutions with the tools they need to improve credit transfer rules to better recruit and retain increasingly mobile students. Improving student credit mobility can help students throughout their higher education journeys, including when earning college credit in high school, reentering higher education after a break, or moving between institutions to complete a degree.

Following the grant-funded launch of the website with the initial group of states and institutions, Ithaka S+R will enhance the website by adding functions and features, and scale participation rapidly to institutions and higher ed systems across the country.