One of the greatest pleasures of my position is engaging with high-performing students. As the college-wide administrator for Phi Theta Kappa and current interim advisor at one of our campuses, I am routinely engaged in conversations about transfer and scholarship opportunities. Most recently, I engaged in interviews with high-performing students who are eligible for a unique transfer opportunity. One of our highly-selective partner institutions committed to diversifying their student population about a decade ago, and they offer an intensive 6-week summer program for high-performing students with financial need. Students then return to their community colleges, complete the associate degree, and apply for enrollment at the institution. If they are accepted, they attend with a full tuition scholarship.
My conversations with students and research on the subject have led me to a few conclusions about how we can better promote transfer and completion for community college students. Previously, I spent 12 years at a private liberal arts college where our guiding philosophy on enrollment was that if we were able to bring prospective students on to campus, they would be much more likely to fall in love with us. I heard that sentiment echoed by students during the recent scholarship interviews: Students said that it was their visit to the partner school that solidified their desire to attend, accelerated their plans for transfer, and inspired them to envision a future that included study at a private liberal arts college.
For many of those students, transfer opportunities previously remained a theoretical conversation informed by the experiences of those close to them, the feedback of their community college faculty, and their perceptions about affordability. They loosely envisioned themselves as a student at four-year institution, but it wasn’t until they visited the campus that they began building an identity as a future transfer student. Therefore, the first recommendation for developing a transfer culture is to build in as many meaningful opportunities to visit 4-year partner schools as possible.
Our 4-year partners would be wise to invest in transporting community college students to their campuses and engaging them in programming that speaks to their needs and interests. Opportunities to engage with faculty, other transfer students, and financial aid officers are critical components of the experience.
Additionally, we should host our 4-year partners on our campuses in a more meaningful fashion. I’ve observed several transfer fairs and transfer tables, and between my observations and conversations with students, I’ve learned that many students won’t approach a transfer destination if they believe it’s not a good financial fit. The college I mentioned earlier is a good example: Students in our interviews would not have approached their admissions officers at a transfer fair because they do not view the destination as an accessible possibility.
Therefore, to expose students to more transfer options and to provide meaningful interaction between students and potential transfer destinations, community colleges should invite transfer partners on campus to provide meaningful activities and programming. At my current institution, we refer to this as “value-added” experiences. In other words, sitting in the lobby at a table is not nearly as valuable as inviting a partner school to deliver a program that will appeal to a wider diversity of students.
Other possible programming options should connect faculty with students in a meaningful experience. For example, faculty at our partner schools can present topical issues in their fields that engage students, connect them with a potential transfer destination that they might not have otherwise considered, and further promote relationship-building between the institutions. Imagine a series in an election year from a variety of disciplines: “Narcissism and the Presidential Election: Understanding Personality in the Context of Leadership” led by a psychology faculty member, for example, would draw students with an interest in the subject who might not have otherwise engaged with a 4-year partner at a transfer fair or table.
Finally, ensuring that transfer agreements are clear and timely can promote transfer. Merely institutionalizing agreements is not enough; both 2- and 4-year institutions must actively promote agreements and ensure that they allow community college students to maximize their credit transfer. While some states engage in mandatory transfer policies, those who do not must continue to build and promote agreements that enable students to transfer all of their earned credit in support of their baccalaureate degree. Students must be engaged in conversation about transfer options early in their academic careers; at my institution, we routinely emphasize that students must “begin with the end in mind” and explore the variety of options available to them. We build in those opportunities through our required success course and will continue to expand our capacity in this area.
Building a culture of transfer requires commitment from both community colleges and our 4-year partners. Building in opportunities for students to visit partner schools, creating “value-added” experiences, and ensuring that transfer agreements are developed and promoted can increase our students’ transfer success.
This post is part of our #comm_college series, which aims to explore experiences developing community college policies and processes that impact the recruitment, retention, and completion of community college students. What human interest stories do you have of community college student resilience, persistence, and success? What about a stories of transition, challenge, or transformation? A variety of SA pros working in student affairs at a community college will share their insights. For more information, please see Kim Irland’s intro post. Be sure to check out other posts in this series!
> BONUS <
Podcast With Anne Scheideler Sweet on Academic Advising