Long before COVID-19 brought chaos to higher education, college students hoping to eventually earn a bachelor’s degree were routinely undermined by policies and practices that hindered the success of transfer students. Our country’s poor and deeply unfair degree of completion for transfer students is well documented, and despite the efforts of many leaders and practitioners, the burden has historically been on students to navigate complicated systems rather than institutions to reform systems to work better for transfer students.
In recent years, this has begun to change, but all too often, efforts to improve transfer student success have been separated and closed, rather than functioning at the core of our institutions and higher education system. As a result – still today – only 14 percent of undergraduate students start at a community college earn a bachelor’s degree within six years notwithstanding fact that 80 percent start saying they plan to do so. Less than a third even manage to transfer to a four-year institution. And transfer results are much worse for lower income students and students from persistent minority communities, a particularly alarming fact given that these students are more likely to start their education at a community college.
We could go on with the number, but suffice it to say that we – despite endless admiration for the problems that transfer students face and sincere efforts among many practitioners and leaders – continue to fail these students in large numbers. It is devastating to these individuals and it hinders our country’s ability to build a healthy middle class now and into the future. COVID-19 has only done this situation more serious.
About tackling transfer
Tackling Transfer is a national project that focuses on promoting the conditions for scalable and measurable improvements in undergraduate levels for undergraduate students, with the goal of achieving greater equity for students from low-income families and sustainably marginalized or minority communities Colour. Tackling Transfer is led by three organizations – Aspen Institutes College Excellence Program, HCM strategists and Sova – and includes focused work in selected states as well as national work aimed at reducing barriers to transfer student success. Tackling transfer is made possible through the commitment and support of Ascendium Education Philanthropy, ECMC Foundation, Joyce Foundation and Kresge Foundation.
But this moment also presents a new kind of hope – a hope that COVID-19 forever changes the landscape of higher education in still unknown ways, we get a new set of opportunities for bold improvement that levels the ground rules for college students hoping to earn at least a four-year degree.
In the coming weeks and months, we intend to use this blog to expand these opportunities. Last summer, Doug Lederman reached out to discuss a study Inside the Higher Ed had commissioned to examine the attitudes of administrators involved in transfer policy and practice at colleges and universities. During these conversations, we explored the possibilities of taking advantage of the moment that COVID-19 provided to accelerate and improve the work around transfer student success.
During the fall is Tackle transfer partners collaborated with Inside the Higher Ed to create a three-part webinar series entitled “Can we finally correct the transfer“” raised practitioners and advocates working with transfer around the country. After this webinar series, we were invited to continue the partnership with Inside the Higher Ed through a regular blog curated by the Tackling Transfer team. We are grateful for this place and are happy to join the valued ranks Inside the Higher Ed‘s bloggers.
We have two goals in mind with this blog: First, we will raise the profile of work underway around the country to dramatically improve the performance of transfer students as institutions navigate toward a still unknown “next normal”. Second, we will share experiences and tools created through the Tackling Transfer Partnership that institutions and systems can use to accelerate the pace of change and improve the quality of work with the aim of lowering barriers to equitable transfer student success.
The work on the Tackling Transfer partnership is based on the belief that meaningful – and meaningfully fair – improvements in the performance of transfer students involve a clear and comprehensive awareness of politics, practice, management, communication and culture. This blog reflects this belief by covering a wide range of topics that speak to issues across these dimensional changes. We draw on the work of the partner organizations, the latest insights from leading researchers, the local efforts of the leaders involved in Combating the Transfer Policy Advisory Board and the sincere reflections of GPs who work tirelessly to redesign policies and practices on a large scale. We invite readers to participate in this endeavor by sharing your own insights, stories, successes, and challenges as you work to improve the performance of transfer students.
Together, we can seize the current opportunity for transformation – and fundamentally change the odds for millions of community college transfer students.