As the COVID-19 pandemic injects profound uncertainty into 2020-2021 postsecondary education enrollments, the risk of drastic upheaval is real. Some reports suggest large numbers of students are rethinking their fall enrollment plans, considering transferring from four-year institutions to two-year community colleges to earn cheaper credits and be closer to family. There’s also valid concern that such changes will fall disproportionately on learners from low-income backgrounds, communities of color and rural communities. But until considerations become actions, it will be hard for institutions to react and plan effectively in a rapidly evolving landscape.
That’s why Ascendium is co-funding a two-year research project by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center to document, in near real time, how the pandemic is affecting higher education transfer patterns. The project will produce nine timely reports, alternating early response and end-of-term reports with a special report in each of the next two summers. Ascendium joins ECMC Foundation in supporting this vital work.
“Ascendium wants to ensure that learners from low-income backgrounds have equitable opportunities to achieve their postsecondary goals. Many learners transfer between postsecondary institutions, but data show that current transfer policies and practices do not result in equitable outcomes,” said Carolynn Lee, Ascendium’s program officer for the grant. “In the context of COVID-19 impact, Ascendium believes these targeted, timely reports will allow postsecondary leaders and policymakers to make data-driven, equity-focused decisions as they address challenges faced by students in transition.”
Using pre-pandemic data as a baseline, the research will uncover which student groups have been most impacted, based on characteristics such as demographics, income level, geographic location. It will look at types of transfers and compare those who transferred to those who didn’t. The data and analysis will be released regularly for free to the field throughout the course of the study so institutions can adapt to new realities based on solid information.
Funding this project is a natural outgrowth of Ascendium’s interest in systemwide reform, the need to maintain momentum for student success even amid pandemic turmoil, and the problem of postsecondary transfer in particular. We are co-funders of The Aspen Institute’s Tackling Transfer project with ECMC Foundation, Joyce Foundation and The Kresge Foundation, and we deepened our interest in transfer issues when we adopted Streamlining Key Learner Transitions as one of our four new grantmaking focus areas last year. Now more than ever, we all need to examine our transfer policies and practices and deliver the promise of postsecondary education to those who need it most.