According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 80% of students who enroll in community college plan to get a bachelor’s degree, but fewer than 15% of them earn one within six years. This issue is particularly acute for students from historically underrepresented populations, who are more likely to begin their postsecondary education at a community college.

One of the main reasons students lose momentum is that two- and four-year institutions don’t always agree on which courses should fulfill degree program requirements. Students wind up with credits that don’t transfer or don’t count toward their major, and many colleges are not well-equipped to offer guidance on complicated transfer processes. Policymakers are aware that these systems are inefficient, but state efforts to align courses and improve transfer efficacy have not made a significant impact on student outcomes. Experts agree that to effect real change, community colleges and universities need to align their policies, reform transfer practices, and support better collaboration between leaders. 


In an effort to improve transfer student success, the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program launched the Tackling Transfer initiative. Over the course of this three-year project, Aspen and technical assistance providers HCM Strategists and Sova Solutions, are working to help three states adopt a more comprehensive approach to transfer. This work builds on Aspen’s earlier transfer research and draws on strategies outlined in their 2017 report “Tackling Transfer: A Guide to Convening Community Colleges and Universities to Improve Transfer Student Outcomes.”

After an initial planning period, Aspen selected Minnesota, Texas and Virginia to participate based on their readiness for reform and diverse ranges of students. As of March 2019, each state created customized work plans to:

  • Set measurable goals
  • Map policies and strategies
  • Meet with leadership
  • Convene institutions at regional workshops
  • Create a knowledge base
  • Develop strategic communications

We believe applying this comprehensive approach will help establish practices that enable states to create seamless transfer systems and clear the path for more students who start their postsecondary journey at a community colleges to attain a bachelor’s degree.


Contact Program Officer Sue Cui at