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Catalyzing Transfer Initiative: Our First Year in Review

December 01, 2021

By Sarah Belnick, Senior Program Director, College Success

In addition to earning an associate degree, an important appeal of enrolling in community college is the opportunity to eventually earn a bachelor’s degree, usually by transferring to a four-year college or university. Yet while 80 percent of the more than 4.5 million students enrolled in public two-year institutions begin with this goal, less than a third (29%) transfer at all within six years, and even fewer (17%) actually complete their desired degree. For students of color, those from low-income backgrounds and first-generation college students, transfer and completion rates are even lower.

Students — and their course credits — frequently fall through systemic cracks when there isn’t sufficient guidance or formal agreements between institutions. Along the way, students can lose 37% of their credits in public-to-public transfers and a staggering 94% in public-to-private transfers — losses that hinder or halt degree completion and pile costs onto students who can least afford them.

ECMC Foundation’s College Success program launched the Catalyzing Transfer Initiative (CTI) in January 2021 to equitably turn the tide, repair the broken transfer pipeline, and fuel our national economic recovery. Comprised of five grants totaling $4.5 million, CTI aims to streamline and better connect multiple aspects of the transfer process, from enhancing individual student experiences and outcomes to aligning institutional policies and statewide procedures. CTI’s goal is to realize clear and equitable transfer agreements at institutions and within states around the country and to specifically increase the number of Black and Latinx community college students entering and completing the transfer path with minimal credit loss.

For its CTI cohort, the College Success team identified five grantees with different approaches. Each is off to a promising start.

Identifying Opportunities in the Transfer Policy and Practice Reform Space, a national landscape scan conducted by Education Commission of the States (ECS), explores historic and current transfer reform efforts, priorities, and outcomes — with a focus on policy and practice improvements. ECS recently completed its initial scan, which included reviews of five transfer improvement programs from the last decade. The scan’s authors found that close, long-term coordination among multiple key stakeholders — from policymakers and institutional leaders down to administrators, faculty, and students themselves — was key to boosting better and more equitable outcomes.

The Equity Transfer Initiative (ETI), launched by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), supports academic program transfer pathways between two- and four-year institutions nationally to strengthen intermural partnerships and enable transfers and degree completion for underrepresented students. In collaboration with its project partners, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, AACC selected 17 community college/four-year college transfer partnerships composed of 25 community colleges and 18 four-year colleges and universities in 13 states. Each partnership established a workplan with approximately five degree pathways. Several participating institutions have already reported that elevating equity has helped create space for broader work. Early data indicates over 2,500 community college and university students are enrolled in one of the designated transfer pathways.

Transfer BOOST (Bachelor's Opportunity Options that are Straightforward and Transparent) is a reform effort by the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) that advances the timely completion of a Transfer Affordability Guarantee (TAG). At its core, a transfer affordability guarantee seeks to marry transfer articulation agreements with clear communications and pledges about cost and time-to-degree that attract students and support their transfer success. In its first year, IHEP and its partner HCM Strategists selected Arizona, Illinois and Virginia to advance TAGs for students and began working with those state leaders to create and scale at least two guarantees by engaging at least five public institutions that enroll a high percentage of students of color. Each state is taking a unique approach, with Arizona's participants building on an existing longstanding transfer partnership while Virginia and Illinois designated state leads who then recruited institutions. Throughout, IHEP and HCM provide technical assistance and other expertise to advance everyone’s TAG development.

Transfer Policy Standards for Equitable Attainment, a project of the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO), is developing state- and system-wide transfer standards leading to equitable outcomes and degree attainment in Colorado, North Carolina, South Carolina and Washington. Already, SHEEO and its partner, the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education, have begun modifying the Foundations of Excellence (FoE) Transfer Focus process and Transfer GPS tools to implement a vision for a more equitable and efficient transfer experience in each of the participating states. Working through state project leadership teams and affiliated task forces over the first year of the project, a self-study is now underway in all four states, and the FoE process will next turn to auditing state-level resources and leveraging data to create a community of practice experience for its initial cohort.

Lastly, the Interstate Passport, a program by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), aims to expand acceptance of block transfer of lower-division general education attainment based on student learning outcomes, rather than on specific courses and credits and increase institutional membership of the Interstate Passport Network. Following a Call to Action with more than 200 supporters in July 2020, WICHE assembled a proactive advisory group, recruited 15 institutions to send Letters of Intent to join the Network, and expanded resources and partnerships for the existing Network. The resulting 20 percent increase in membership will help thousands of students avoid repetition by enabling the transfer of lower-division general education as a block.

At ECMC Foundation, we are so proud of these initial successes and remain optimistic about the future of this initiative and its grantees. These commonsense-yet-critical systemic changes will enhance outcomes at the individual level and enable a truly national sea change. Visit the CTI webpage for more information on our philosophy and programs, and stay tuned for more updates as we move into our second year.


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