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Transfer Reform Demands More From All of Us

Eye on Strategy by Lynn Alvarez, Vice President, Programs & Strategy

July 11, 2022

In early 2021, ECMC Foundation announced the launch of the Catalyzing Transfer Initiative (CTI) to increase successful transfer of postsecondary credits and timely bachelor degree completion among marginalized racial and ethnic groups. Including an initial investment of nearly $4.5 million in grants to five projects with national reach, CTI has become an active player in an effort that requires a holistic approach to produce real change. Time has shown the transfer landscape is still rife with equity gaps, and innovative solutions are crucial — now more than ever.

In fact, a new report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center details the detrimental effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on transfers at all institution types, with particular declines in enrollment among Black and Latinx students, as well as women. In the last two years, transfer enrollments grew only among students aged 18 to 20 and those transferring between four-year institutions. That means that every other category of student and every other type of transfer program saw declines — some as much as 20%. Further, a report published in June 2022 by the Research Center found that one in four college freshmen do not return for the second year.

Such sobering numbers point to the critical nature of ongoing work to address the issue at the national, state and institutional levels alike. That’s why ECMC Foundation remains committed to exploring and funding actionable reforms with grantees and partners who are paving the way for a new generation of students to transfer unburdened by the systems that should be designed to enable their success.

A year and a half in, CTI’s grantees have done great work, from collecting essential data to expanding different types of transfer partnerships. The grantees also continually learn from one another during meetings convened by ECMC Foundation to share innovative practices in the field. Each project is addressing key pain points in the transfer pipeline, and thousands of students are already seeing the impact of this work. We look forward to the opportunity ahead for even greater impact as our grantees address the structural and systemic challenges surrounding the transfer process.

It's also important to note that students in career and technical education (CTE) programs face credit loss challenges similar to those endured by students moving from one institution to another in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree. For many, the postsecondary experience is a non-linear one, and it’s easy to get stuck in the misalignment between non-credit and credit pathways. A term like transitions, uplifted by the Education Commission of the States and Sova, might be more inclusive of today’s students, especially those enrolled in postsecondary CTE programs which often incorporate stackable credentials — a sequence of credentials that can be accumulated over time to help individuals learn new skills, add additional qualifications and increase wage gains. Change is needed in this arena as well.

However and wherever students choose to learn, we endeavor to help them persist seamlessly through postsecondary education and complete their academic goals so they can go on to realize careers that pay family-sustaining wages and achieve upward mobility. Through our grantmaking and program-related investments, the Foundation is working to streamline transfer and advance equitable student success strategies so all learners can unlock their fullest potential.

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