Streamline Key Learner Transitions
Transfer remains an important priority for us as we aim to smooth transitions in a learner’s journey to and through postsecondary education. Through our grantmaking in this focus area, we fund initiatives that reform policy and practice to improve transfer and application of credit at the system, state and regional levels.
We do this through investments to facilitate better data sharing within and across sectors. We also do it through investments to improve collaboration between institutions and help education, workforce training and employer systems function in more complementary and effective ways. We hope these efforts will increase the number of learners from low-income backgrounds who successfully move between education providers without losing credit, slowing momentum, increasing cost or delaying credential completion.
Over the past year, we’ve supported and learned from leaders who are developing high-quality education and workforce training solutions for learners from low-income backgrounds to quickly find pathways to good jobs through continued education. By investing in infrastructure projects to facilitate more robust data sharing and collective action, we aim to bolster efforts to substantially increase education and career success for students with fewer financial resources.
We know transitions can be challenging, and as the COVID-19 health crisis continues to create uncertainty for postsecondary education institutions and learners, the strain felt by students and their families is intensified. We’re excited about the collaborative efforts underway to build the infrastructure that will allow students to make those transitions with greater ease, no matter their circumstances.
STEM Transfer Partnerships
While STEM degrees can provide a path to a living wage and upward mobility, learners from low-income backgrounds are less likely to graduate with a degree in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics field than their higher-income peers. This investment supports the University of Washington in implementing a transfer partnerships framework through a statewide consortium of two- and four-year colleges. Ten pairs of institutions will test the impact of collaborative transfer partnerships at the departmental level. The insight gained about the unique barriers low-income transfer students face within STEM fields is expected to generate long-term structural improvements in transfer policy and practice.
Examining Faculty Decision-Making in Course Equivalency and Transfer
Postsecondary institutions and systems continue to wrestle with the fact that learners from low-income backgrounds, first-generation students and students of color experience disproportionately poor transfer outcomes, which directly contributes to degree completion disparities. Faculty decisions about which courses transfer play an outsized role in this process, so it is vital to ensure faculty decisions are made as consistently and as free from bias as possible. This grant supports MDRC in assessing faculty behavior and motivations related to course equivalency decisions. Through evidence-building of these behaviors and motivations, the initiative aims to increase credit transferability and decrease time to degree for transfer students, which helps ease the financial strain these students feel upon graduation.
Now more than ever, institutions need to examine transfer policies and practices to ensure the equitable delivery of the promise of postsecondary education. But reform of these policies also requires hard data. That’s why, amid the outbreak of the COVID-19 health crisis, we co-funded a two-year research project by the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) Research Center to document how the health crisis is affecting higher education transfer patterns.
Using data from before the health crisis as a baseline, the research has uncovered information that benefits the entire field. It tells us which student groups have been most impacted, based on characteristics such as demographics, income level and geographic location. It also looks at transfer types and compares outcomes for those who transferred to those who didn’t.
The reports provide key insights about COVID-19’s impact on postsecondary students, paving the way for institutions, systems and policymakers to react and respond accordingly.