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The Initiative on Transfer Policy and Practice

In partnership with the College Board’s Advocacy & Policy Center, the Initiative on Transfer Policy and Practice highlights the pivotal role of the transfer pathway for students seeking the baccalaureate degree, especially those from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds; convenes two- and four-year institution leaders to identify policies and practices that enhance this century-old pathway; and promotes a national dialogue about the viability and potentiality of transfer to address the nation’s need for an educated citizenry that encompasses all sectors of American society.

More than seven million students attend credit-bearing programs in community colleges, the largest postsecondary system of education in the United States. Many of these students attend a community college so that they may prepare themselves to transfer to a four-year college or university and earn a baccalaureate degree. Among new, first-time community college students, the desire to transfer is especially strong. Surveys indicate that as many as 8 in 10 want to transfer. Although some professionals dispute the seriousness of these educational intentions, what is not disputed is that among students who say they want to transfer, most do not.

In late 2012, the Initiative, with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, released its inaugural report, The Promise of the Transfer Pathway: Opportunity and Challenge for Students Seeking the Baccalaureate Degree, which includes an in- depth analysis of transfer and a series of recommendations to improve the efficiency of this vital academic pathway. The recommendations reflect the guidance of the Commission on Transfer Policy and Practice, a committee convened by the College Board composed of education leaders from around the country possessing both expertise and experience in the area of transfer. In addition, the Initiative commissioned the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) to calculate a national transfer rate based on the most recent data collected by the U.S. Department of Education.

In addition to The Promise of the Transfer Pathway, three additional reports have been released: a technical review from the Institute of Higher Education Policy (IHEP), whose empirical findings comprise Chapter 3 of The Promise of Transfer, a report on the history of transfer that traces the development of this academic pathway from its 19th-century beginnings to its present form today; and a report that profiles the transfer process from the student perspective (see below for links to these resources).

In undertaking this work, the Initiative’s overriding goal is to understand better the capacity of the current transfer process to help more students earn the baccalaureate degree; scrutinize transfer from the perspective of students who are asked to navigate this pathway, often on their own and with minimal assistance; and integrate both the policy and empirical research literature in a way that provides higher education leaders with a set of strategies instrumental for improving the transfer process.

Strengthening Transfer

The Initiative on Transfer Policy and Practice builds on early College Board work on transfer. In July 2011, the College Board released Improving Transfer from Community Colleges to Four-Year Institutions: The Perspective of Leaders from Baccalaureate-Granting Institutions. Incorporating the insights from higher education leaders at a dozen four-year colleges and universities, this report presents a series of recommendations designed to strengthen the transfer process between community colleges and four-year institutions.

Compared to community colleges, relatively little attention has been paid to the role of four-year institutions in creating a more efficient transfer process. Yet, public and private four-year institutions are responsible for admitting students from community colleges, evaluating and accepting course credit, and awarding financial aid. Without properly consulting with the institutions that award the baccalaureate degree, the transfer process can never function in a way that supports the nation’s need for an educated citizenry.

For this report, higher education leaders at some of this nation’s most selective and/or popular four-year institutions were interviewed — and it is their voices you will hear throughout this report (see list of participants below). These leaders have expertise in all facets of institutional administration, including outreach and recruitment, admission and enrollment, financial aid, and student and academic affairs. Their institutions consist of public and private colleges and universities, public flagship and smaller institutions, and highly selective and moderately selective universities.

By highlighting the often neglected perspective of four-year institution leaders who are committed to serving community college students, Improving Student Transfer from Community Colleges to Four-Year Institutions: The Perspective of Leaders from Baccalaureate-Granting Institutions fills an important gap in the national debate about the pivotal role that the transfer pathway will play in providing access to higher education, while addressing the degree production needs of this nation.

Recommendations from the Report Are as Follows:

Leadership and Commitment

Four-year institutions’ enrollment and education of transfer students should be a part of the campus mission and should be supported at the highest levels of administrative and faculty leadership. Suggested strategies to achieve this include the following:

  • Develop a strategic, as opposed to a tactical, enrollment plan, one that is mission driven and sees the recruitment and enrollment of transfer students as a long-term commitment.
  • Engage a broad consensus of senior leaders in academic affairs, enrollment management, outreach, student affairs, and financial aid in the commitment to serve transfer students.
  • Understand the challenges and obligations that follow from a decision to bring transfer students to a campus, which may require an institution to evaluate all aspects of its operations, including recruitment, admission, and student and academic affairs.

Outreach and Preparation

Four-year institutions should provide transfer students with the guidance they will need to prepare for and apply to their four-year institution. Suggested strategies include the following:

  • Calibrate an outreach message that is purposeful, concise, and clear — and that focuses on academic preparation.
  • Develop productive and sustainable relationships with community colleges locally; expand them as resources and commitment allow.
  • Establish a presence on the community college campus that will help guide prospective transfer applicants in selecting courses that will prepare them for the transition to the four-year institution.
  • Support community college counselors by keeping them up to date on programs and services at the four-year institution.
  • Train recruitment staff in ways that will help them serve transfer students effectively, especially because transfer students usually present a more complex academic profile than freshman students.

Admission and Enrollment

Four-year institutions should enroll academically prepared students who are able to pursue their major immediately after transfer. Suggested strategies include the following:

  • Create transparent transfer credit policies so that students know how to prepare for transfer while attending the community college.
  • Complete a credit evaluation for all transfer students before they enroll at the four-year institution.
  • Involve faculty in the admission process so that they are actively engaged — reading applications, assessing student preparation, and consulting with admission staff.
  • Identify transfer student enrollment targets that are separate from freshman targets.
  • Grant community college applicants preference in the admission process over transfer applicants from four-year colleges and universities.

Financial Aid

Four-year institutions should provide sufficient aid to transfer students so that they may engage fully in the campus community. Suggested strategies include the following:

  • Use Federal Work-Study Program funds for transfer students because many of these students prefer to work while in college. Holding a work-study job is more likely to keep transfer students close to campus, which helps them connect to the campus community more easily.
  • Create partnerships with community colleges that help students attend school full time and to receive full financial aid.
  • Fund scholarships specifically for transfer students.
  • Help transfer students face their financial aid future by developing information, resources, and incentives that span students’ transition from a community college to a four-year institution.

Student and Academic Affairs

Four-year institutions should create a welcoming environment for transfer students by addressing their unique transitional issues, while working to engage them fully in the intellectual life of the campus. Suggested strategies include the following:

  • Dismiss the assumption that transfer students require less attention or service than first-time students because they have already been to college. Similarly, do not assume that just because a transfer-student does not want something (e.g., orientation), that he or she does not need it.
  • Monitor and assess the transfer-student experience as you would the first-year student experience.
  • Offer an orientation program for transfer students that addresses their unique needs and concerns.
  • Create a campus “home” for transfer students by establishing a campus transfer center that allows students to meet others like themselves, obtain access to sustained advising and prepare for the transition to the larger campus community.
  • Offer special transition courses for transfer students.
  • Reserve housing for transfer students on or near campus to shorten (or eliminate) their commute and provide them with time to fully engage the campus community.

Read the Report:  

Higher Education Leaders Interviewed:

  • Frank Ashley, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, The Texas A&M University System–College Station
  • Gail Berson, Dean of Admission and Student Aid, Vice President for Enrollment, Wheaton College, Norton, Mass.
  • Timothy E. Brunold, Dean of Admission, University of Southern California, Los Angeles
  • Youlonda Copeland-Morgan, Associate Vice President of Enrollment Management and Director of Scholarships and Financial Aid, Syracuse University, New York
  • Marc Cutright, Director of the Center for Higher Education and Associate Professor of Higher Education, University of North Texas–Denton
  • Laura Doering, Senior Associate Registrar and Director of Transfer Relations, Iowa State University–Ames
  • Stephen M. Farmer, Associate Provost and Director of Admission, The University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill
  • Karen Francis-Begay, Special Advisor to the President on Native American Affairs, The University of Arizona–Tucson
  • Marc Harding, Assistant Vice President for Enrollment and Director of Admissions, Iowa State University–Ames
  • Kim Harves, Senior Assistant Director, Office of Undergraduate Admissions, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.
  • Alfred Herrera, Assistant Vice Provost and Director of the Center for Community College Partnerships, University of California–Los Angeles
  • Bonita Jacobs, Executive Director, National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students and Associate, Professor in Higher Education, University of North Texas–Denton
  • Mildred R. Johnson, Director of Undergraduate Admissions, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg
  • Jerome A. Lucido, Research Professor of Education and Executive Director, USC Center for Enrollment Research, Policy, and Practice, University of Southern California, Los Angeles
  • Camille Martinez-Yaden, Director, Undergraduate Teacher Preparation and Graduate Educational Leadership Training, Project Native III, University of Arizona–Tucson and Tohono O’odham Community College–Sells
  • Patricia McWade, Dean of Student Financial Aid Services, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.
  • Colleen K. Miltenberg, Assistant Director, Office of Undergraduate Admissions, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.
  • Janina Montero, Vice Chancellor — Student Affairs, University of California–Los Angeles
  • Angela Peterson, Associate Vice President for Regional Campuses, University of Central Florida–Orlando
  • Mark Allen Poisel, Associate Vice President for Student Development and Enrollment Services, University of Central Florida–Orlando
  • Kasey Urquidez, Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Admission, The University of Arizona–Tucson

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