Full Circle: Reverse transfer allows Lisa Isaacson to earn a Tri-C degree
September 21, 2017
Lisa Isaacson has an accomplished academic resume. She holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Baldwin Wallace University, a master’s in public administration from Columbia University and an Associate of Arts from Cuyahoga Community College.
In that order.
That’s right. Isaacson received her Tri-C associate degree after graduating summa cum laude from BW and receiving a master’s degree from an Ivy League university.
The probable response is twofold: “How?” and “Why?” At first glance, an associate degree wouldn’t appear to be of much use to someone who already has such an advanced postsecondary education. However, Isaacson’s educational journey has been anything but ordinary.
“I started at Tri-C as a nontraditional student at age 34,” Isaacson said. “I had avoided college my entire life due to a debilitating fear of public speaking, but I realized that if I wanted to better my life and find a more meaningful, secure career path, I had to just get through it. When I made the decision to go forward with college, Tri-C was the obvious choice.”
Isaacson arrived at Tri-C in 2004 and, after exploring other fields, settled on sociology as her area of concentration. With an ultimate goal of earning a bachelor’s degree, she planned to transfer to a four-year school without earning a degree from Tri-C. She was accepted into Baldwin Wallace, transferring in 2006.
She graduated from BW in 2008 with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and a minor in English, then relocated to the New York City area, where she still lives today. She earned her master’s from Columbia in 2009.
Since then, she has built an administrative career in the New York area, with a resume that includes stints with numerous advocacy and community resource organizations, such as the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership and the Volcker Alliance, a public policy reform organization founded by Paul Volcker, chairman of the Federal Reserve from 1979 to 1987.
Isaacson is presently the special assistant to the president and CEO of Breaking Ground, a homeless services and affordable housing organization.
But even though her career has taken her hundreds of miles away to some of the most influential community organizations in the New York area, Isaacson never forgot where it all began.
“It did bother me that I never finished my associate degree,” she said.
Since leaving Tri-C, Isaacson has kept in touch with some members of the faculty. It was through them that she found out about Tri-C’s reverse transfer program.
“Reverse transfer is a process by which a Tri-C student who has transferred to another school can take the credits earned at that school, transfer them back to Tri-C and earn their degree,” said Tri-C registrar Chris Dorsten. “We have a number of processes in place where we look at the additional credits a student earned after transfer and whether those credits could be used toward a degree here.”
Since instituting the reverse transfer program in 2009, Tri-C has conducted reverse transfers with 40 different college and universities. In 2016, the College awarded 181 reverse transfer degrees and certificates. To date in 2017, it has awarded 182.
Students earn reverse transfer degrees for a variety of reasons. Some want to add depth to their resumes. Some want a fallback career path in case they encounter hardship in their chosen field. Some utilize their associate degrees to qualify for scholarships while pursuing a bachelor’s degree.
For Isaacson, it was a statement – a tangible way to illustrate how much Tri-C helped her as a nontraditional student entering college in her 30s.
“My fear of public speaking was a very real disability when I first started at Tri-C,” she said. “It’s the type of disability that doesn’t get taken seriously by many people. But my teachers at Tri-C did take it seriously, and they worked with me. The level of support and attention I received as a student helped to strengthen my confidence and build my self-esteem.”
Isaacson credits her Tri-C experience for laying the groundwork for future success – and that’s why she proudly accepted her Tri-C diploma this summer. It arrived in the mail – no cap, gown or stage – but it means every bit as much to her as her diplomas from BW and Columbia.
“I could never have entered Baldwin Wallace without that solid base of learning that Tri-C provided, and I certainly wouldn’t have dreamed of applying to Columbia without that foundation in place,” she said.
“Tri-C made me into a student who was ‘university-ready,’ and that’s why I value the education I received there as much as from the other institutions I attended.”