- Trustees need to monitor the existence, success, and shortcomings of transfer programs, including monitoring the needs and academic progress of transfer students separately from native students, as their needs may differ.
- Transfer pathways require strong relationships and close coordination between partner institutions to avoid a sense of zero sum competition over students and units.
- Careful, major-specific mapping of courses and credits and communication to pathways students can help to ensure that students will graduate on time from the receiving institution.
- Less affluent transfer students may need financial support at receiving institutions to avoid the trap of working too much at the often more expensive receiving institutions, which can undermine academic progress
- The participation of regional consortia of colleges can help broaden transfer pathways and reduce the burden on individual institutions.
- Partner institutions must carefully monitor the start, growth, and development of transfer pathway programs to ensure they are successful, to address problems in pathways, to remove unsuccessful pathways, and to ensure that even successful pathways are not creating unintended consequences.
Sometimes, the sum of the whole is greater than its parts. Transfer pathways in higher education constitute a case in point. When students split their undergraduate years between two different higher education institutions that together curate and coordinate the experience, the decision can unleash a surprising array of benefits for students and both institutions. As the demographic cliff approaches and recruiting and retaining students becomes more challenging, this is the type of hidden synergy that many institutions are trying to unleash with greater purpose than in the past.
Since 2006, for example, the DirectConnect to University of Central Florida (UCF) transfer program has helped nearly 70,000 state college students earn bachelor’s degrees at UCF, greatly helping UCF achieve its goal of being a national leader in educating and producing diverse talent.
DirectConnect to UCF guarantees admission to students who earn associate degrees at six other Florida state colleges, and the program produces about one-third of UCF’s incoming students. Prospective students are paired with a UCF success coach to help navigate their career and academic plan, and to assist with student services, admissions, and financial aid.
“Our DirectConnect to UCF graduates contribute significantly to vital industries in our state, including engineering and computer science, health care, hospitality, and business,” says UCF Provost Michael Johnson, PhD.
DirectConnect to UCF also produces the majority of UCF’s Latinx students who enroll each year, fueling the success of the growing Hispanic business community in Florida and enabling UCF’s designation as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, including recognition by the Latinx education advocacy group Excelencia in Education, which awarded UCF its Seal of Excelencia in 2021.
DirectConnect to UCF has also boosted completion rates at Valencia College, one of the six state college partners, says Valencia College President Kathleen Plinske, EdD.
“One of the biggest benefits of the program is that it is a promise to our students,” Plinske says, noting that since the program’s inception in 2006, more than 41,000 students have graduated from Valencia and gone on to earn a bachelor’s degree at UCF. “It’s very clear that for students participating in DirectConnect and who complete an associate degree at Valencia College, they are guaranteed admission to the University of Central Florida. And as UCF has become more and more selective in its freshman admissions, this promise to local students is extraordinarily valuable. One of the things that we have noticed as DirectConnect participation has grown is an increase in our graduation rates. When the value of completing the associate degree is clear, it’s not surprising that more students choose to do so.”
In addition to gaining access to UCF, the participating students graduate with a UCF degree and, for the two years they are at Valencia, pay Florida state college tuition that is half the level of the state university tuition.
The program is one of a proliferation of transfer pathways nationwide that are helping students bridge the gap between two-year and four-year higher education institutions. Like many other transfer pathways, there are challenges to forging and expanding these pathways, as well. At UCF, these include strengthening alignment between programs at sending and receiving institutions, particularly for more rigorous degree programs, and increasing the level of support for students.
The schools continue to work closely together to solve those challenges and increase the program’s impact on student success, says Johnson. In 2022, for example, UCF opened the Transfer Center, which
serves as a one-stop shop for transfer students to help them make a more seamless transition to UCF. Success coaches work closely with students, helping them make a smooth transition and giving them strategies to graduate faster in addition to guidance on career choices.
“In the past, our responsibility to students centered around access,” Johnson explains. “Today, we are closely monitoring how our students are doing. We continuously review whether we are helping students maximize their probability of completing a bachelor’s degree, ideally without debt. When we look at it through that lens, we see things that we need to work on. For example, when we looked at
the readiness of DirectConnect transfer students to enter into their desired major, it became clear that UCF and its state college partners could collaborate on developing ways to ensure students were better prepared to succeed in their majors.”
“From its inception, DirectConnect has been an innovative program benefiting students and employers, and garnering national recognition for institutional cooperation and partnership,” says Beverly Seay, the chair of the AGB Board of Directors and formerly the chair of the UCF Board of Trustees. As UCF’s board chair, she led a board initiative to study UCF’s enrollment trends and the impact of DirectConnect. “One of the challenges is ensuring that the level of academic support services and other necessary infrastructure are adequate to meet demand, and that entering juniors are ready to handle upper-level STEM programs like engineering. We are committed to addressing those challenges.”
UCF, for example, now offers summer boot camps in its College of Engineering and Computer Science programs to help improve math skills and ultimately improve transfer success rates.
In the past, students transferring to four-year-institutions have not infrequently been treated as disfavored siblings compared to post-high school matriculating “native” students. But with transfer partnerships growing in scope and importance, many educators are increasing attention to making these partnerships work more effectively.
With sufficient care, transfer student outcomes can achieve remarkable results, such as equaling or even exceeding native student outcomes, say Rhett Brown, EdD, the president of Wingate University, an independent college in North Carolina that has a pathways program with South Piedmont Community College, and Maria Pharr, EdD, the president of South Piedmont Community College. “Over the past five years, 90 percent of South Piedmont Community College students who continued at Wingate are either still enrolled or graduated,” states Pharr.
“I was in a meeting last week about community college transfers and one of the goals of that program, a statewide initiative, was that community college transfers would succeed at the
same rate as first-year [native] students,” Brown says. And I’m like, “not on our campus. We’re hoping that our first-year students succeed at the same rate that our community college transfer students are succeeding! That 90 percent success rate is much higher than a traditional aged firstyear student starting on our campus, which is about 55 percent for a first-time freshman.”
The program, for instance, offers a tremendous financial carrot for those who complete their South Piedmont Community College associate degree: a Gateway to Wingate Scholarship that reduces the transfer student’s tuition fees to $2,500 per year from the normal $8,000 they would pay, Brown says.
The Push for Transfer Pathways
Three trends are causing greater attention to transfer pathways, says Martin Kurzweil, JD, the vice president of educational transformation at higher education research and consultation nonprofit Ithaka S+R. First, the demographic cliff anticipating a large fall off in higher education enrollment is approaching and institutions of all types are recognizing that they need different models and different approaches to filling their seats and that transfers can play a key role.
Second, there is recognition of a degree completion crisis. There are 39 million individuals with some college and no degree, according to a 2022 report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. According to Columbia University’s Community College Research Center community colleges now enroll roughly one-third of all undergraduates nationally, most of whom aspire to transfer to four-year baccalaureate-granting institutions; yet fewer than one-third of those who hope to gain a baccalaureate degree transfer into a four-year institution, and only 13 percent actually earn their bachelor’s degree in six years.
Third, there is a recognition that many existing transfer processes are inefficient, causing students to waste numerous credits in the transfer process because they aren’t able to count credits they earn toward their new degree.
“All of this has forced a reckoning within the higher education community as to how they treat transfers,” Kurzweil says.
Some say it is unclear how much transfer pathways progress is occurring and that the higher education sector must do much more to improve transfer pathways.
As is often the case in higher education, improvements in transfer pathways are evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Among the developments in recent years are the following:
- An increase in transfer pathways from community college to private, nonprofit colleges and universities;
- Growing efficiency in processing multiple types of transfer students and various types of learning;
- Formation of new consortia of higher education institutions working together to facilitate ever more sophisticated, refined, and broadly applicable transfer pathways among their students;
- States mandating standardization of credits and pathways to ease transfers and increase efficiencies;
- Increasing attention by sending and receiving institutions to the needs of transfer students and to improving support services while also collaborating to increase educational alignment;
- Institutions expanding the types of transfer credit they will consider.
Unfortunately, detailed transfer statistics such as credit applicability are hard to come by other than institution by institution, notes Emily Decatur, senior program manager, of the New England transfer initiatives at New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE). “Some institutions, and even state systems, don’t track transfer students or completion of degrees,” says Decatur. “So putting our progress into context has been difficult. On the bright side, we’re seeing transfer becoming more a part of the national conversation within higher ed.”
“The National Student Clearinghouse data does not suggest that there have been improvements in transfer rates nationally,” says Joshua Wyner, JD, the executive director of the College
Excellence Program at the Aspen Institute.
But the potential is there to create a paradigm shift toward co-ownership of students, rather than competition for them and higher education institutions, notes Wyner. “If you move towards co-ownership of a student with another educational institution, you are much more willing to figure out what the advising function should be not just at your institution, but throughout the student’s journey, and then apply responsibilities and resources accordingly,” Wyner notes.
Who Are the Transfer Students and What Do They Want?
In many cases, transfer students are a distinct population compared to post-high school matriculating (native) students.
“These are students who may not have been eligible academically for these institutions through their freshman admission process and who often tend to be from lower socioeconomic status [and backgrounds],” says Kemal Atkins, EdD, a senior consultant at AGB and a former college executive and administrator. “And so these challenges tend to affect that population a little bit more.”
For these students, two years at a less expensive community college and two years at a four-year institution can be a winning combination. Often pathways programs between institutions are granting students at two-year institutions guaranteed access to four-year institutions as long as they maintain a certain grade point average and/or secure their associate degree prior to matriculating. DirectConnect to UCF is unusual for such guarantees in that it does not require a minimum GPA.
But transfer students frequently need significant support. They often have less time to adjust to the new institution. Many need advising and support to adjust to the new campus given the lack of a freshman warm-up year. Advising is important to these students to help align coursework with degree and major requirements and, often, to arrange financial support.
New Pathways: Community College and Liberal Arts
Some private, nonprofit independent colleges have long enjoyed modest pathways programs with community colleges and other two-year institutions. But now, facing rising competition for a declining cohort of students and with equity mandates that may be hard to meet with native students, many independent institutions are making such programs more robust. As a result, they are ramping up transfer pathways from two-year sending institutions, in some cases creating significant new flows of students.
The University of Dayton, a private, nonprofit school with 8,400 undergraduate students, long had a transfer program with nearby Sinclair Community College that produced a modest flow of transfer students. But over the last eight years, it has ramped up such efforts. In 2015, leaders of both institutions set about to increase and refine such flows by better alignment of programmatic offerings and through the creation of a UD Sinclair Academy under which Sinclair students can enjoy Dayton services while taking classes at Sinclair, says Jason Reinoehl, PhD, the University of Dayton vice president for strategic enrollment management. On an annual basis, UD has more than 250 students enrolled in the UD Sinclair Academy, Reinoehl notes.
“From day one when students enter the Academy, they begin their studies at Sinclair, but they’re a University of Dayton student in every other way,” Reinoehl says. “So they have a UD ID card. They come and work out in our RecPlex, go to our basketball games, do faculty-led research with our faculty, study abroad through our programs, and play in our band while
taking courses at Sinclair.” Students also receive upfront information about the full cost of their degree, have access to advisors on both campuses, and are paired with a success professional at UD who helps them navigate any challenges and questions they might have inside and outside the classroom.
Two major foundations are seeking to create similar types of community college to independent institution pathways. Since 2019, the Teagle Foundation and the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations Transfer Pathways to the Liberal Arts initiative has supported such pathways for liberal arts students at higher education institutions in 13 states, with plans to expand to 20 states in the next five years, says Loni Bordoloi Pazich, PhD, the program director at the Teagle Foundation, which supports higher education sector transfer initiatives.
More than half of the states participating in the Teagle/Arthur Vining Davis Foundations initiative are building statewide pathways whereby students are able to transfer with admission guaranteed, provided they obtain associate degrees and meet certain minimum four-year admissions requirements, including GPA, and capacity availability. All are developing pathways to ensure consistency in how community college curricula transfer to participating independent colleges so students have assurances that general education requirements are met and, whenever appropriate, they have junior status in their chosen majors.
Facilitating such transfers are articulation arrangements involving community colleges, independent institutions, and state higher education organizations, which can help accelerate and expand such agreements by involving large numbers of institutions, such as the New England Transfer Guarantee. As an example, in Connecticut, the Connecticut Transfer Guarantee is a partnership between the Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges, Connecticut State Colleges & Universities, and NEBHE.
While many independent colleges have long had articulation agreements with community colleges, they tend to be limited in scope, subject to expiration, and are complex and fragmented, unlike the New England Transfer Guarantee, says Decatur.
In the first three semesters of the Transfer Guarantee program, 470 students transferred from community colleges to independent colleges in the three states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, Decatur says.
“While that sounds like a number that’s on the smaller side, it’s actually rather large when you look at the context of it, because this program only allows students who have an associate degree to transfer,” Decatur says. “And typically, the majority of students transfer prior to receiving an associate degree. So it is a smaller segment of the population, the transfer population, that we’re working with. But when we were at the outset of designing this program, we homed in on the fact that students who have associate degrees are more likely to persist and to complete, they’re very prepared when they go in, and they oftentimes outperform native students, which is rather impressive.”
“For a long time, we’ve had transfer and articulation agreements with community colleges for individual academic programs,” says Rhona Free, PhD, the president of the University of St. Joseph in West Hartford, Connecticut. “But now, partly because of this new Transfer Guarantee, I think we’ve seen an uptick in student transfers. Each year about 10 percent of our new students are transfers from community colleges. Over the last three semesters, 17 of them have come in through the Connecticut Transfer Guarantee Program and we expect that as students become more aware of the program, they will make up larger and larger portions of the total transfer number.”
The transfer pathway is also increasing diversity and helping support liberal arts programs at St. Joseph, Free says.
There are similar partnerships throughout the United States. In North Carolina, for example, about 2,000 two-year college students transfer to one of the 36 independent four-year colleges and universities in the state. Beginning with access to the colleges’ facilities and services, transfer students are increasingly being encouraged to enroll in classes at the four-year institutions. To add to the newly transferred student’s comfort level, sometimes the four-year institution offers one class free of charge.
Bordoloi Pazich notes that one area where there have been comparatively fewer transfers is between two-year institutions and elite independents, such as Ivy League universities. But there is some movement there. Princeton University, for example, began admitting transfer students for the first time in recent history just a few years ago and last year announced it would significantly expand its transfer admission program over the next few years, gradually increasing from the 40 transfer students then enrolled to approximately 100 transfer students, Kurzweil of Ithaka S+R says. “It has been a way for them to enroll more students directly from community colleges, but also to enroll student veterans, who often earn credit while in the service,” Kurzweil says.
Dual Admission and Dual Enrollment
Partnering institutions are moving toward earlier and more robust alignments. The far edge of this is dual admission, in which students are admitted to both a community college and a four-year institution, which is increasing in prevalence, Wyner says. Virginia law, for example, requires that all the four-year colleges and community colleges in Virginia and all have a robust dual admission program.
“Dual admission, I think, is the next wave of reform that makes an impact by flipping the script,” Wyner says. “I think if you say to somebody, ‘if you do x, then you will get y,’ there is still a question in the mind of the student, ‘can I do x?’ But if you jointly admit them to both institutions, you’re in essence saying, ‘Yes, you are admitted,’ which I do think changes the dynamic. It is, frankly, almost like being a freshman at a four-year college.”
Also, because the students have already been admitted, four-year institution faculty are forced to confront the biases that may exist, or the lack of alignment that may exist, Wyner adds.
Dual enrollment in high schools and colleges, particularly community colleges, also is very common already and is not a primary focus of this article. What is noteworthy, however, is how such pathways are playing a larger role in community college to four-year institution transfer partnerships, Wyner says.
At Valencia, 50 percent of students who take dual enrollment courses at their feeder high schools come to Valencia, whereas at many other schools, it’s much lower, around 10 to 20 percent, Wyner says. That in part reflects that students see, through Direct-Connect to UCF, a pathway to getting a prestigious four-year degree. And the financial value is even greater for students because Valencia college credits completed at high school are free to students and their parents, meaning a DirectConnect to UCF student may only need to pay for a single year or less at Valencia plus their two years at UCF, Plinske notes.
Mass Online Enrollment Institutions
As noted, some online higher education providers are seeking to scale higher education nationwide and increase its availability, including to transfer students, such as at Purdue University affiliate Purdue University Global (Purdue Global).
Purdue Global is a good example of a four-year online institution reaching out to accommodate various types of transfers. Purdue Global Chancellor Frank Dooley, JD, PhD, says about 30
percent of his matriculating students have an affiliation with the military; 18 percent have an affiliation with Guild Education, a manager of educational benefits for employers such as Walmart, Target, and Lowe’s Home Improvement; and about 55 percent of Purdue Global students bring an average of one year of community college or junior college credits.
With respect to military transferees, Dooley says that the military’s system of job classification and tracking educational training and vocational aptitudes helps Purdue Global award credits for military education and training.
Such students need to be met where they are and recognized for the education or education equivalents they have achieved to make degree completion as a working adult student feasible,
Dooley says, adding that in Purdue Global bachelor’s programs, an average of 52 percent of students’ bachelor’s credit came from prior learning.
“If you’ve been working for a year or if you’ve been in the military, you’re not in an exploration mode; you’re usually on a career path,” Dooley says. “And what my students are typically looking to do is get their credential so they can move forward. Also, about 60 percent of my students, either with the military or with a business, enjoy employee education benefits with other B2B partners.”
Such students nonetheless often face numerous challenges. “Let’s say that you’ve been working a decade now and you’re coming back; you’re working probably full time—70 percent of our students are caring for dependents, typically, children,” Dooley says. “So they’re juggling life. They’re not going to join the clubs, they’re not going to be in a fraternity, and they don’t need an internship because they already have a job.”
Completion rates at Purdue Global and many of the online education providers remain a challenge. “Purdue’s West Lafayette (main) campus’s six-year graduation rate now is I think 87 percent,” Dooley says. “Other large competing online providers have rates in the 40 to 50 percent range. We’re sitting today at around 30 percent, which is up from 27 percent when we took it over [from Kaplan] and reflects that we do not require an associate degree for four-year program admission. Our goal is to get it up to SNHU, [which was 37 percent for students beginning in 2015, the most recent year available, according to Department of Education data], over the next five years.”
To increase graduation rates, Dooley says Purdue Global is developing additional support for the students. “We’re working with Google on AI tutoring programs, we’ve instituted a coaching program, and we’ve instituted predictive analytics to try to find people who might be in trouble and get to them earlier,” Dooley explains. “Sometimes we find the reason they’re struggling is they’re pulling double shifts at work.”
Elements of Good Transfer Programs
There are a number of elements that go into ensuring a good transfer program. A 2022 Ithaka S+R report, “Playbook for Transfer Pathways to the Liberal Arts,” describes many of the elements of healthy programs, as does Aspen Institute and CCRC’s The Transfer Playbook: Essential Practices for Two- and Four-Year Colleges. Ensuring a healthy partnership comes first. Both institutions must know what they are getting from the relationship. For four-year institutions, that includes increased enrollment and diversity. For their part, community colleges tend to get increased enrollment, investment by the four-year, and more prestige.
It is important to address potential concerns that both institutions are fighting over the same students, notes Daniel Rossman, a senior researcher at Ithaka and an author of the Playbook for Transfer Pathways. Rules ensuring that transferring students must complete their associate degree to participate in a pathway program or to receive favorable treatment, such as guaranteed admission, can help, as this helps increase the odds that the sending institution will improve their completion metrics and adequately support their programs.
The Critical Role of Articulation Agreements
Articulation agreements between individual institutions and groups of institutions in a state or a region are critical to the success of transfer pathways. Such work can involve painstaking examination of course content and standards at sending and receiving institutions by faculty and administrators to align pathways between the two institutions to allow enrollment, recognition of credit, and progress toward degrees.
For institutions with a high level of transferees, that can require dedicated faculty reviewing transfer credits. “Because Purdue Global is looking at transferee credits so intensely—ballpark 48 percent of Purdue Global student credit overall is coming from outside the institution—I have a unit of about 50 faculty evaluating transfer credits full time,” Dooley says.
Some states have mandated articulation agreements or common course numbering systems. All the community colleges in North Carolina use a common course numbering system, which helps with the ease of transfer between the community colleges and the senior institutions by increasing transparency about what the courses are and what content is included in a course.
Alignment between programs, however, is an ongoing concern. In 2014, the North Carolina Community College System and the North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities (NCICU)
organization approved updates to an independent Comprehensive Articulation Agreement. Increasingly, the focus has been on defining clear pathways for specific majors to allow students to take courses at the two-year college that count for full credit toward the major and general education at the four-year institution. Discipline-specific agreements that focus on certain popular majors supplement the general articulation agreement.
Purdue Global also evaluates Ivy Tech transferees for alignment of matriculating students with Purdue Global majors. “What we have done is, instead of the typical approach of transfer credit evaluation of evaluating credits course by course, with Ivy Tech we are instead evaluating transfer of a student in the associate part of a major to the bachelor’s part of the major,” Dooley says. “And what it means is that the student actually has one plan of study and if these 20 courses are going to be taught for you at Ivy Tech, we guarantee they’re going to be accepted by Purdue Global and count towards this plan of study.”
Purdue Global also rigorously tracks the results of students in particular program pathways. “When we find programs that we have a lot of people coming from, let’s say that there have been 50 students from one program in the last two years, we go back and evaluate how those students did?” Dooley says. “And then we look at our larger programs and say, ‘These nine work really well but in this tenth program the students aren’t progressing well at Purdue Global, right?, Sometimes community colleges will adjust their training, and sometimes we will decommission one of these pathways, because we don’t want to give people a false sense that this is a magic carpet or something like that.”
Sometimes modest adjustments can fix the problem, Dooley says. “For example, at West Lafayette, there was a series of calculus courses where the students coming from the community college, Ivy Tech, were doing terribly,” says Dooley, who formerly served as a senior vice provost at Purdue University’s main residential campus. “And when we then brought the faculty from both institutions together to examine this we discovered that there were a couple of key concepts that hadn’t been taught in the community college courses. So they went back, revised the community college courses to include those [concepts], and that fixed the problem.”
Advising is another key issue. NCICU has received a Council of Independent Colleges/Teagle Foundation grant that helps faculty members be better advisors of students who plan to transfer. The Gardner Institute has helped develop this program.
Plinske says Valencia College is using data analytics to improve analysis of student needs and outcomes for students transferring to UCF. “We have a really amazing data-sharing partnership, called the Central Florida Education Ecosystem Database (CFEED), which has anonymized student unit record data for more than the last decade from hundreds of thousands of students from school districts, Valencia, and UCF,” Plinske says. “And we’re able to use really sophisticated data analytics and machine learning to identify what are the pathways that are most likely to open the doors to success for students.”
“For example, one of the really clear learnings that we have derived from this data sharing system is the importance of students completing all of their freshman and sophomore courses prior to transfer,” Plinske says. “And that’s not necessarily intuitive for students because it’s certainly possible to complete your associate of arts degree before finishing all of the specific courses. It also has allowed us to really offer precision advising for students based on their intended baccalaureate major at UCF. So we’re able to help students develop their program planning pathway, but the ultimate end goal in mind is not just earning the associate degree, but really knowing what they need to complete in order to be successful for their bachelor’s degree.”
Close alignment between Valencia and UCF extends to marketing as well. “We have a partnership that when UCF sends a denial letter to students in our service district, Valencia then follows up with a letter that says, ‘hey, we heard you wanted to go to UCF. Did you know that there’s another way to get in? You can come to Valencia, finish an associate degree, and you can go off to UCF and become a [UCF] Knight.’”
Physical proximity between two-year and four-year institutions can be a driver of successful transfer outcomes. In 2010, Valencia added a new Valencia campus in the city of Kissimmee in Osceola County that featured a contribution of capital funds from UCF and collocation of UCF classrooms and offices there. That allowed UCF to have a regional presence there and DirectConnect to UCF students to complete a variety of associate and bachelor’s degree classes in certain programs without ever having to leave Osceola County, including one of the most popular baccalaureate programs, which is biomedical sciences. The collocation also exposes Valencia students to UCF students, instructors, and advisors, Plinske says.
Seay notes that Florida is now specifically tracking transfer student success. “All state universities in Florida have performance metrics that determine funding by the legislature,” Seay says. “The recent addition of a metric focused on the success of transfer students gives us a more complete picture of how well our universities are doing.”
Financial challenges are another major impediment to successful transfer pathways. For many transfer students, housing and food insecurity issues are more prevalent than for native students. Also, for many students from modest backgrounds, their community college education has come about only by working part time during their education; these students are extremely wary about taking on debt. So when they arrive at the four-year institution, they frequently continue to work, to the detriment of their studies, Plinske notes.
Charting a sustainable financial plan at the four-year institution, including reducing excess credits and ensuring timely completion for these students is critical, many educators say.
Plinske says there can be perverse incentives for students to not complete their lower division coursework prior to transfer, which would be more economical. “When a student completes an associate of arts degree from Valencia, they are no longer eligible to receive federal financial aid at Valencia, because you have to be pursuing a credential,” says Plinske. “So if students are receiving federal financial aid, being rational consumers they will tend to transfer to UCF because they will be eligible to receive aid, even if that’s not necessarily in
their best interests academically. It would be better for the students to stay and finish those additional lower division courses, but they cannot receive a Pell grant to do so. One of the things that UCF and Valencia have been discussing is how we might offer scholarships for students to encourage them to stay at Valencia to finish the courses that we know will help prepare them for a greater likelihood of success once they do transfer to UCF.”
“Historically, transfer students have been shut out of receiving a lot of institutional aid at public or independent colleges, it’s typically gone to native first-year students,” Decatur says. “So that’s something that we’ve made a very strong commitment to. Our institutions [participating in the NEBHE-sponsored New England Transfer Guarantee] offer scholarship and merit aid and grants directly to transfer students, with a focus on making those scholarships for these transfer students outside of what they would get for other types of institutional aid.”
Monitoring and Advising Transfer Students
Generally, the earlier a student enters a designated transfer pathway, the better, as the partnering institutions can start advising students about what courses are needed when at each institution to enable timely completion of a major and degree at the receiving institution.
Plinske says use of CFEED data is providing student success insights and allowing Valencia to advise students more effectively. Positive indicators include higher grade point averages at Valencia. However, if that same student also has multiple repeats of the same course that would be an indicator that the student could potentially have difficulty at UCF. “Course repeats are a signal that some intervention is likely needed in order to help that student be successful when they do transfer,” Plinske says. “We’re really working together through CFEED to try to identify the factors that predict transfer shock, because we know that when a student experiences transfer shock—defined as the first semester GPA at UCF being significantly lower than their overall GPA in the last year at Valencia—their likelihood of graduating with a bachelor’s degree declines. These insights allow us to identify the students who would benefit from different interventions to help them avoid experiencing transfer shock, and therefore be more likely to graduate.”
Many social issues also can challenge transferees. Transferees arrive at institutions after many friendships have been made; Greek institutions, clubs, and societies joined; and after native students are wired into the expectations and flow of an institution.
Many institutions stressed the need for advising of students as early in the process as possible. Schools such as Johnson C. Smith University, an HBCU in North Carolina, employ dedicated transfer counselors with knowledge of relevant transfer pathways visit community college campuses in person. It also has developed sections of its orientation courses specifically for incoming transfer students, says Karen D. Morgan, PhD, the senior vice president, academic affairs and chief academic officer at Johnson C. Smith University.
Students may need help adjusting to the mode of education. Community colleges are often built to be flexible to accommodate adult learners. Many have large classes and classroom attendance is optional or can be remote. In contrast, small classrooms are touted as a benefit of many independent colleges. But they can also be a challenge. At a small liberal arts college with an in-person-only class of 15 or 20, it is immediately apparent who is not present, who is not paying attention in the classroom, who has not done their homework, and who is not participating effectively in group assignments and class conversations, notes St. Joseph’s Free.
The Role of Trustees
Those interviewed said there are several important aspects of transfer programs that trustees should be aware of and help support.
First, it is important that trustees are aware of the growing importance of transferees to an institution and whether the optimal mix between native and transfer students is being achieved, AGB’s Atkins says. “Trustees should ideally know as much about transferees, their needs, and programs to respond to those needs as they know about native students,” Atkins says. “If not, it is likely a good time for them to start asking about the enrollment of transfer students, their academic profile and characteristics of the transfer student population, how they fit into the school’s enrollment plans and goals, whether adequate staffing and other resources are available to support their success, and whether evidence-based best practices are being employed to recruit, retain, and measure their success.”
Trustees also must monitor speech and behavior, in themselves, and in university executives, faculty, and staff and others, to ensure there is not a pejorative attitude toward these students as compared to native students. Many interviewed emphasized the need for constant communication and efforts to increase the trust of leaders at both institutions in partnerships.
Trustee support proved key to enable Valencia to use transfer student success at UCF as a Valencia metric within its strategic plan, Plinske notes. “Some folks within our college said, ‘Wait a minute, why are you putting in our strategic plan a goal that really is outside of our control—once they leave our doors, we can’t do anything,,” Plinske says. “But our board has been extraordinarily supportive of including that metric and of the concept that our measurements of success should include how well our students do after they leave our institution. And that really allows us to change the narrative about it.”
David Tobenkin is a freelance writer based in the greater Washington, D.C. area.