Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the misalignment of policies and practices between community colleges and four-year institutions was a burden borne by transfer students, particularly low-income, Black, Latinx and Indigenous transfer student populations. Challenges with transferring can lead students to lose credits they earned, invest more time and money than necessary, defer their education or abandon their postsecondary education goals altogether.
The pandemic has increased attention given to transfer students and further exposed weaknesses within the college transfer system, and we support the need to build urgency around stronger and better transfer pathways, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As part of our COVID-19 Impact Response Fund, Ascendium awarded the Aspen Institute a $100,000 grant in July to engage leading experts and field stakeholders in identifying and disseminating practical, actionable guidance for institutions and policymakers to immediately respond to the needs of transfer students. Co-funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and in collaboration with HCM Strategists, Bruce Vandal Consulting and researchers from The Ohio State University, two briefs were produced from this effort, Responding in the Moment: Policies and Practices to Advance a Next-Generation Transfer System, along with a summary of those briefs.
The briefs suggest ways institutions and policymakers can demonstrate they’re making transfer a bigger priority. Examples include naming students to task forces at the postsecondary level and issuing joint statements from state, system and postsecondary leaders emphasizing transfer as a core priority during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Academic policies can also be designed to better support transfer students, starting with short-term changes like accepting and applying pass/fail credits and terminating residency requirements.
Communication is key and addressing uncertainty by providing clear, consistent and up-to-date information to students, staff, faculty and advisors is critical. Policymakers can also clearly document and help communicate COVID-19 pandemic-related changes to academic policies and practices to institution leaders, student support professionals, students and families. Additionally, data and technology structures can be modified to better support transfer student success, from entry to completion.
Beyond highlighting effective practice and policy, the briefs also aim to strategically engage college and university leaders in the cause of transfer reform.