Posted on July 23rd in General

Changing the College Transfer Game

Kathy Urban has been on both the sending and receiving sides of the transfer process — as a transfer counselor at a community college and as a non-traditional student program director at a four-year college. From both sides, it’s clear: completing a bachelor’s degree can be a long, hard road.

“The majority of today’s undergraduates are not completing a bachelor’s degree through a continuous residential experience,” said Urban, director of undergraduate programs in the College of Liberal and Professional Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. “Transfer is inevitable for many students, and tools that can inform and remove barriers are necessary to support degree attainment.”

Urban recently joined six other college transfer experts for the National Summit for Excellence in Community College Transfer Success, held June 12-13 at Phi Theta Kappa’s headquarters in Jackson, Mississippi. It was a meeting of researchers and practitioners to improve equity and performance outcomes for transfer students.

Discussions and ideas from the summit will be incorporated into the development of a new web platform and mobile app by Phi Theta Kappa that will allow students to learn more about what colleges and universities are doing to be “transfer friendly.” It is set to launch in October.

In addition to robust techno tools, the Society plans to release an online curriculum for students to navigate the transfer landscape, a curriculum for college recruiters to be successful advocates for community college transfers, and guidance to Phi Theta Kappa advisors on how to be successful transfer navigators at their colleges.

“Half of all bachelor’s degree graduates have some community college credit,” said Phi Theta Kappa President and CEO Dr. Lynn Tincher-Ladner. “It makes you wonder what we can do if we all work together and build an intentional pathway.”

The work of this national project to increase community college transfer outcomes is made possible through a grant from the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation. The platform will also be integrated with the foundation’s Scholar Snapp functionality, which automatically fills in students’ information on scholarship applications.

In its just-released publication, The Talent Blind Spot, the Aspen Institute found that, each year, more than 50,000 high-achieving, low- and moderate-income community college students do not transfer to a four-year institution. Approximately 15,000 of these students have at least a 3.7 GPA, suggesting they could succeed at even the most competitive schools.

“Many students often lack the supportive resources and point people to guide them through transfer,” said Benjamin Fresquez, program associate with the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program. “Reaching students early, educating them about their options, and connecting them to responsive/transfer-friendly institutions at scale can have a significant impact on our country.”

Phi Theta Kappa’s forthcoming web platform and app has the potential to be a one-stop shop for college transfer stakeholders. It will streamline the transfer search process and expand opportunities to talented students, and it will enable four-year colleges to reach more prospective students by offering them much-needed technical and professional support, Fresquez said.

“There are many community-based organizations and groups that are invested in transfer success,” he said. “PTK, as a convener, can continue to partner with stakeholders to advance our collective work to improve transfer.”

As the Aspen Institute works directly with colleges through its American Talent Initiative to expand access and opportunity for talented lower-income students, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation works directly with students. The foundation provides scholarships, educational advising, online resources, and a community of scholars with similar backgrounds to help transfer students succeed at the most selective institutions in the country.

The Cooke Foundation awards the largest private scholarship for transfer students in the country — up to $40,000 per year for approximately 45 students annually — and a majority of the recipients are Phi Theta Kappa members. They also offer the Young Scholars Program for high-performing seventh grade students with financial need and the College Scholarship Program for high school seniors.

“Because we provide scholarships to only a couple hundred high-achieving students a year, we have a limited impact,” said Dana O’Neill, the Cooke Foundation’s co-director of scholarship programs. “That is why the work of PTK and other organizations that focus on a larger population of community college students is so important.

“Providing a web platform and app for these students to navigate the transfer process will meet them where they are and provide a great benefit.”

The new transfer website and app will mirror the social media platforms and actions today’s college students are accustomed to using. Students will be able to see the transfer friendliness ratings of colleges, “like” or “favorite” selected colleges, and get recommended schools and scholarships based on patterns of students like them.

Similarly, colleges will be able to run searches to find the best-fit student for them using behavior patterns such as likes and page views.

“PTK’s new web platform and app will be a game-changer — for students, obviously, but also for the four-year colleges,” said Thomas Gutto, director of transfer enrollment at Loyola Marymount University in California. “This new web experience will … allow for the kind of information sharing that will increase student success by aligning their needs with the right colleges.”

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