Tackling transfers: Advisory board unveils plan to boost student outcomes

They say policies must shift to meet today's mobile learners.
By: | July 28, 2021

Today’s transfer students need more flexibility in their pursuits of postsecondary education and just aren’t getting it, according to a new report released by the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program.

Most systems were designed—and still remain largely in place—to help those who take the traditional path of shifting from two-year to four-year colleges and universities. But this generation’s transfers, comprised of older adults, far more mobile younger students and many more from underserved backgrounds, need improved guidance and support.

The Tackling Transfer Policy Advisory Board was formed to solve a national crisis that has seen less than 15% of transfers achieve their goal of bachelor’s degree completion in six years. Those dozen experts from institutions and organizations across the U.S. recently unveiled The Transfer Reset: Rethinking Equitable Policy for Today’s Learners, a guide to help drive change for those carving unique transfer routes.

“Today’s students are highly mobile but postsecondary and workforce practices, policies, technologies and data systems haven’t kept up with changing patterns in where and how they learn,” write the authors. “We need to ‘reset’ transfer to meet the needs/demands of today’s learners—and tomorrow’s—who are seeking to receive credit for learning, work and lived experiences along the entirety of their educational path.”

Leaders say the problem with the current system is that it is often not equitable or forgiving for those who transfer far more frequently (45%) than previous generations and pursue a bevy of nontraditional options, from certifications to microcredentials. Leaders say these students need better advising to understand, for example, how they can apply for financial aid and move to other institutions with credits intact.

“Most transfer policies in place now focus on mapping out pathways, policies that are useful building blocks but are insufficient on their own,” they say. “The Board’s policy framework addresses critical dimensions of transfer reform, filling gaps in areas where we currently see very little transfer policy, such as accountability, financial supports for institutions, and financial aid for students.”

In the report, they suggest a series of steps for states and systems to adjust policies to meet those needs, including:

  • Creating dashboards and public data models that show the success of transfer students to help close equity gaps
  • Providing strong investments that help boost financial incentives for colleges to support transfer students
  • Doubling the Pell Grant, while clearly earmarking aid and support for transfers
  • Reviewing accreditation to “encourage greater credit applicability and recognition of learning”
  • Giving technology a boost, particularly systems that can improve learning for transfers while also streamlining transcript exchange, course evaluation and degree auditing

“Together we must expand our collective sense of urgency and ownership for transfer student success,” the authors wrote. “We aim to create and cultivate a sense of responsibility for transfer student success that transcends the confines of organizational boundaries and job titles. We aim to reset transfer.”

Experts on the Board who helped put together the report include Marty Alvarado, California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office; Ron Anderson, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities; William R. Crowe, University of Texas, Austin; John Fink, Columbia University Teachers College; Maria Hesse and Cheryl Hyman, Arizona State University; Shirleatha Lee, University of South Carolina Upstate; Sharon Morrissey, Virginia Community College System; Elena Quiroz-Livanis, Massachusetts Department of Higher Education; Jessie Ryan, Campaign for College Opportunity; Shanna Smith-Jaggars, The Ohio State University; and Chris Soto, Connecticut State Department of Education.