Reimagining Transfer: What Must Change in Policy to Improve Transfer Student Outcomes
For years, ineffective and inconsistent transfer policies and processes have left many college students with excess credits and excess debt, but no degree or certificate. And as students dealt with the disruptive effects of the pandemic during the last academic year, college and universities lost nearly 200,000 transfer students—with the sharpest declines among Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and low-income learners. It’s time for policymakers and postsecondary leaders to support and advance new transfer strategies that foster equitable outcomes and streamline attainment of in-demand postsecondary credentials.
The latest episode of JFF’s When Policy Meets Practice podcast examines innovative approaches to transfers that have been implemented at individual colleges and throughout state systems. Host Paul Fain talks with three members of the advisory board of the Tackling Transfer project: Sharon Morrissey, a senior vice chancellor in the Virginia Community College System; Elena Quiroz-Livanis, chief of staff and assistant commissioner in the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education; and Shirleatha Lee, dean of the Mary Black School of Nursing at the University of South Carolina Upstate. The discussion centers on three policy issues covered in a new Tackling Transfer report titled The Transfer Reset: 1) maximizing credit applicability and recognition of prior learning, 2) harnessing data for transformational change, and 3) ensuring that transfer students can receive financial aid. At the end of the episode, JFF’s David Altstadt and Lara Couturier, a principal at HCM Strategists, join Paul for a wrap-up conversation.
Resetting the transfer system and meeting the needs of today’s students requires tremendous leadership at the state and institutional levels to establish the conditions for forging strong partnerships and building affordable transfer pathways.
Sharon kicks off the discussion describing Virginia’s transfer articulation programs, which guarantee that students who graduate from Virginia’s community colleges will have a seamless pathway to enroll at more than 30 of the commonwealth’s colleges and universities and progress toward bachelor’s degrees in their desired fields of study. Over the past three years, she adds, a transfer reform initiative called Transfer Virginia has focused on “must haves”—designing and mapping transfer degree pathways, identifying and accepting general education courses and credit for prior learning, and providing a technological platform for students to access this information. Sharon also notes that Virginia offers a needs-based, two-year college transfer grant that provides students with an incentive to complete an associate degree at a Virginia public two-year college before transferring to a four-year college or university, with the aim of offsetting the overall cost of a bachelor’s degree. Sharon emphasizes that resetting the transfer system and meeting the needs of today’s students requires tremendous leadership at the state and institutional levels to establish the conditions for forging strong partnerships and building affordable transfer pathways.
Next up, Shirleatha describes the challenges nursing students face in the academic journey from a two-year to a four-year degree and offers solutions to the transfer challenge. She notes that nurses often don’t receive academic credit toward their bachelor’s degrees for the skills and experiences they acquired on the job. Then she offers a look at some of the innovative ways in which her current and past universities have recognized prior learning, such as offering credit by exam and by portfolio.
It is important to make sure that higher education doesn’t exacerbate inequities for communities that were hardest hit during the pandemic and instead takes steps to transform lives in positive ways.
In closing, Elena talks about how the Massachusetts higher education system has prioritized equity in efforts to improve transfer pathways, recruitment, and retention strategies. She emphasizes that it is important to make sure that higher education doesn’t exacerbate inequities for communities that were hardest hit during the pandemic and instead takes steps to transform lives in positive ways. For institutions to improve what they are doing, they must know how they are doing, she says, and then describes efforts to harness and disaggregate data to support this type of transformational work.
How to Listen to Episode 7 of When Policy Meets Practice
Tune in to the seventh episode of JFF’s When Policy Meets Practice podcast to hear Paul Fain discuss strategies for ensuring equitable outcomes for transfer students in conversations with postsecondary leaders Sharon Morrissey, Elena Quiroz-Livanis, and Shirtleatha Lee, and then wrap things up with Lara Couturier of HCM Strategists and JFF’s David Altstadt. The episode is now available on your favorite podcast platforms, using this shortcut.
You can find each episode starting at 5:00 a.m. ET every other Monday. Be on the lookout for Episode 8, which will be available starting September 27. It will feature a conversation in which Paul Fain and his guests examine dual enrollment approaches for high school students.