administrators

Essay on the importance of transfer students to increasing the college completion rate

There is a large group of students — often overlooked — whose completion of college we need to better track and encourage: transfer students. We need to do a better job of collecting and following transfer students’ data and of instituting policies that help them to graduate, such as ensuring that their credits transfer. There are many reasons that these students deserve our full attention.

For several years there has been a national priority, set by President Obama, to increase the percentage of people in the United States who have college degrees, both by increasing the number of people who go to college and by increasing the percentage of college students who finish. The United States is now only 16th in the world in the percentage of young adults with college degrees, and the percentage of U.S. jobs needing college degrees is growing faster than the supply. We need to make sure that each college student completes. However, one of the largest subgroups of students — transfer students — is frequently being ignored. 

That transfer students constitute a huge group is indisputable. As early as 1999, Clifford Adelman, then at the U.S. Department of Education, in his now-classic report "Answers in the Tool Box," was noting an “increasing tendency, overlooked in both policy and research, for students to attend two, three, or more colleges in the course of their undergraduate careers.” A 2012 study by the National Student Clearinghouse showed that approximately one-third of all students who began college at any level transferred at least once within five years. 

The City University of New York (CUNY) provides a useful current example. At this urban university of approximately 240,000 undergraduates in 19 colleges, approximately 10,000 students transfer from one CUNY campus to another each fall alone. There are also many thousands who transfer in the spring, and many thousands who transfer out of and into CUNY. In fact, each year about two-thirds of all new students in CUNY bachelor’s degree programs enter as transfers. The result is that, at every one of CUNY’s 12 colleges that offers bachelor’s degrees, over half of the bachelor’s degree graduates are transfer students — the majority of graduates do not consist of students who started at those colleges as freshmen. So, when, on occasion, the CUNY faculty or administrators at these colleges talk about their college’s students as only those students who entered that college as freshmen, they are actually talking about a minority of their students. Many other colleges and universities around the country also enroll large percentages of transfer students.

In addition to the category of transfer students being very large, it deserves our focus for another reason. As shown in the National Student Clearinghouse Study, the largest proportion of transfer students consists of students moving from community colleges to bachelor’s-degree colleges. Community college students tend to be more racially and economically diverse than are students at bachelor’s degree colleges (the national percentages of students who are black, Hispanic, and from low-income families are 15, 14, and 26 for community colleges, and 11, 10, and 20 for bachelor’s-degree colleges, respectively). This pattern is true for CUNY as well, where black and Hispanic students are 10 percent and 18 percent of freshmen entering the most selective bachelor’s degree colleges, but 19 percent and 25 percent of the transfer students. And at CUNY, transfer students are also more likely than new freshmen to have been born outside the U.S., and to have a first language other than English. When you take into account that CUNY’s most selective colleges now admit far more transfer students than freshmen (e.g., 15,237 versus 7,260, respectively, in academic year 2013-2014), it is clear that CUNY’s transfer students are an important source of college degrees for students from underrepresented groups.

CUNY also provides a helpful example in understanding the multifaceted nature of student transfer. As is true nationally, the largest percentage of students transferring to CUNY’s five most selective college comes from associate degree programs at CUNY’s community and comprehensive colleges. By CUNY policy, students who need remediation must begin in an associate degree program at one of these colleges, which have expertise in providing remediation, which is needed by some 80 percent of CUNY new associate degree freshmen. Each year almost 10,000 CUNY students, having completed their remediation, transfer from a CUNY associate degree program to a bachelor’s degree program at a different CUNY college. In addition, many transfers to the five most selective CUNY colleges come from other, less selective, CUNY bachelor’s degree programs or from outside of CUNY.  However, the huge majority (at least 84 percent) of new CUNY transfer students come from another CUNY college or are living in New York City or both. Thus, the most selective CUNY colleges serve as a destination for transfer students who entered college with relatively less preparation, but who subsequently showed themselves ready for rigorous advanced work.

This all means that, if we ignore transfer students, or, to put it another way, focus only on first-time freshmen who stay at a particular college, we are not only ignoring a huge proportion of college students, we are also ignoring a huge potential source of diversity among baccalaureate graduates, including many students who have recently proven themselves able to handle college and to receive a degree. If we ignore transfer students, we are continuing to disadvantage many students who have been disadvantaged all their lives.

Though it is true that many colleges — at CUNY and nationwide — have special programs for transfer students, examples of how these students have been ignored abound. A prime example is the national student database maintained by the U.S. Department of Education: IPEDS. This important data repository is the source of data for federal education policy purposes, as well as for researchers and policy makers all over the country. Each institution of higher education in the U.S. that provides federal financial aid is required to deposit specific data in IPEDS each year. However, one type of data that is not currently required for IPEDS is graduation information about transfer students, although IPEDS will start tracking some of this information next year. 

Furthermore, when the U.S. Department of Education calculates graduation rates, these rates are currently limited to students who started and finished at a given college. The Department of Education is promising to release soon a new college rating system, but the new system cannot include anything about transfer student graduation rates until either IPEDS starts requiring sufficient data, or another data source, such as the National Student Clearinghouse, is used. It seems that we still need to heed Adelman’s 1999 advice: “When [a large percentage] of undergraduates attend more than one institution … institutional graduation rates are not very meaningful. It is not wise to blame a college with superficially low graduation rates for the behavior of students who swirl through the system.”

Similar to the U.S. Department of Education, other rating systems, such as that promulgated by U.S. News & World Report, also do not take into account transfer graduation rates. The graduation rate portion of the U.S. News ratings is based entirely on first-time full-time freshmen who go on to graduate from their original college of entry.

In addition to having programs specifically for transfer students, CUNY has perhaps been a bit ahead of the curve in terms of tracking and using transfer student data. Since 1999, CUNY has had an accountability system for its colleges, and among this system’s measures for each college are graduation rates of transfer students, in addition to graduation rates of students who started and finished at a single college. Further, in measuring graduation rates, CUNY looks at the rate at which its new college students end up graduating from any CUNY college, not just from the colleges that they first entered.

Another critical way to assist transfer students in graduating is to ensure that their credits transfer with them, and that the transferred credits count for what they were originally intended:  general education, major, or elective credit. Several recent studies have detailed challenges associated with credit transfer. To try to ameliorate such challenges, many states have mandated that some or all credits transfer among some or all higher education institutions in that state. This has not happened in New York. However, CUNY adopted its Pathways program in fall 2013.  With Pathways, general education credits taken by students at any of CUNY’s 19 undergraduate colleges satisfy the same requirements at all 19 undergraduate colleges. Credits also transfer seamlessly for the first several courses in each of the 10 majors that have the most transfer students.  All other undergraduate courses transfer as at least elective credit.

Even though CUNY is considered one university by New York State Education Law, required to have close articulation among its colleges, a principle upheld in two recent court cases, there has been much controversy at CUNY about Pathways. At CUNY it had sometimes been the tradition for faculty at a given college to decide the worth of all transfer student credits and to set the general education and major requirements for students at that college independently of any other CUNY college. As a result, many students were having significant difficulties transferring credits. This situation pitted the rights, or perceived rights, of faculty to decide student requirements directly against the needs of transfer students for support in completing their degrees.

The CUNY Pathways project can provide further understanding of why support of transfer students may be particularly important in ensuring higher education for disadvantaged students. There were two groups of students who particularly lobbied for the passing and effecting of Pathways:  disabled students and LGBT students. Students in the first group pointed out that some of the financial aid that they receive as disabled students would not pay for a course that had to be repeated when a student transferred. So, in addition to dealing with any challenges associated with their disability, they had to find money to pay for the disallowed course.  Students in the second group pointed out that they are particularly likely to transfer. The president of one LGBT organization told me that 95 percent of her organization’s members had transferred. She further explained that the LGBT status of some CUNY students, who often live with their parents and commute, can become a source of friction within the student’s family during college, resulting in the student having to move — and transfer.

Although some aspects of CUNY’s situation may be unique, there may be a general lesson to be learned from the CUNY example. Even though many students transfer for purely academic reasons (they develop a new academic interest not emphasized by their original college, they complete remedial work and show themselves qualified for college work at a higher level, they finish their associate degree and now want to move to a college that gives bachelor’s degrees, etc.), they may also transfer due to a variety of personal challenges, challenges that we do not ordinarily measure.

If we do not attend to the data concerning transfer student success (i.e., graduation), we cannot hold colleges and other relevant entities to task for that success. And that means that colleges and other relevant entities do not have any incentives to facilitate that success.  Thus not tracking transfer student data has profound implications, and likely disadvantages the close to one-third of U.S. college students who transfer within five years of beginning college. Our focus should be on the overall goal — graduation — not on freshmen who take just one of the many possible paths to get there. 

Each student has different needs. Even if our only goal is to increase graduation rates, it is our obligation to see that those individual needs are met. Without attending to transfer students’ particular circumstances as reflected in their data, without incentivizing colleges to help these students graduate and facilitating their credit transfer, increasing the United States’ percentage of young adults with college degrees will be far more difficult.

Alexandra W. Logue is research professor at the Center for Advanced Study in Education at the City University of New York Graduate Center.

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Niagara Team Stranded on Bus for More Than 24 Hours

The blizzard that has hit the Buffalo region trapped the Niagara University women's basketball team for more than 24 hours as they attempted to return to campus after a loss at the University of Pittsburgh Monday night. Various accounts say that the bus left Pittsburgh around 10 p.m. Monday night and got stuck around 1 a.m. Tuesday morning, and remained stuck, with the team members on board, for the next 24 hours. The Associated Press reported that the team rationed available snacks and water and turned some snow into water. Students used social media to post photographs and a hashtag #NUWBBstrandedonabus allowed the university's many supporters, and friends and family of team members, to express support. Team members indicated on social media that they were praying, waiting and making the best of the situation. There were unconfirmed reports on social media early Wednesday morning that team members been rescued after about 30 hours on the bus.

UPDATE: The head coach of the team confirmed on Twitter that everyone is off the bus and on the way back to campus (photo of happy athletes below).

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Duke Dean Will Become Middlebury President

Laurie L. Patton was named Tuesday as the next president of Middlebury College. Patton is currently dean of Duke University’s Trinity College of Arts and Sciences and the Robert F. Durden Professor of Religion at Duke.

 

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Guide for Responses to Suicide on College Campuses

The Higher Education Mental Health Alliance released a guide Tuesday to assist colleges with their responses to campus suicides. Called "Postvention: A Guide for Responses to Suicide on College Campuses," the 26-page booklet offers suggestions as to how colleges can best facilitate the grieving and adjustment process, stabilize the campus environment, reduce the risk of negative behaviors, and limit the risk of further suicides. "Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students," the alliance said in a statement. "Tragically, after hearing about a suicide death, those who are already at risk for suicidal behavior may be at increased risk for self-harm. There are multiple factors which might increase or help to reduce risk, making a school's reaction vitally important."

The detailed guide includes suggestions such as forming a "postvention" committee that includes staff from campus behavioral intervention teams, the communications department, the legal department, the campus chaplaincy, and student affairs leadership; implementing postvention plans after an alcohol or drug-related death as it may be unknown whether the death was intentional or accidental; and having the university public relations office work with counseling leadership when reporting a campus suicide.

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Study: Teenagers want to go to college, but are 'particularly averse' to student debt

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A survey of teenagers finds that tomorrow's undergraduates want to go to college but don't want to use student loans.

New Report on Adjunct Working Conditions

Service Employees International Union’s Adjunct Action campaign, a national adjunct organizing effort, released this week a new report on academic labor. "Crisis at the Boiling Point" is based on input from part-time faculty members at 238 colleges and universities, plus 40 in-depth interviews with adjuncts. Some 16 percent of respondents are paid less than minimum wage, based on the number of hours they actually work, while many more make less than $15 per hour. Some 40 percent of respondents said they work 40 hours per week or more, despite being considered part-time employees. About 18 percent said they’d received a paycheck late within the last year.

The report, which was presented to Department of Labor officials this weekend at an SEIU meeting in Boston, also makes a series of recommendations, including the broadening of federal and state labor protections for contingent faculty. The report also calls for more institutional “transparency” regarding how much of the budget is spent on instruction. Adjunct Action says that adjuncts can use the Office Hours tool on its website to determine how many hours they work, in order to apply for federal benefits, such as loan forgiveness for educators, which they’ve historically been denied.  

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Essay argues that colleges can measure the career success of graduates

With rising tuition, families are increasingly concerned about what students can expect after graduation in terms of debt, employment, and earnings. They want to know: What is the value of a college degree? Is it worth the cost? Are graduates getting good-paying jobs?

At the same time, state and federal policymakers are sounding the call to institutions for increased accountability and transparency. Are students graduating? Are they accruing unmanageable debt? Are graduates prepared to enter the workforce?

Colleges and universities struggle to answer some of these questions. Responses rely primarily on anecdotal evidence or under-researched and un-researched assumptions because there are little data available. Student data are the sole dominion of colleges and universities. Workforce data is confined to various state and federal agencies. With no systematic or easy way to pull the various data sources together, colleges universities have limited ability to provide the kind of analysis of return on investment that will satisfy the debate.

But access to unit-record data — connecting the student records to the workforce records — would allow institutions to discover those answers. What’s more, it would give colleges and universities the opportunity to conduct powerful research and analysis on post-graduation outcomes that could shape policies and program development.

For example, education provides a foundation of skills and abilities that students bring into the workforce upon graduation. But how long does this foundation continue to have a significant impact on workforce outcomes after graduation? Research based on unit-record data can also show the strongest predictors of student earnings after graduation — educational experience, the local and national economy, supply and demand within the field, or some combination of each.

President Obama and others have proposed that colleges share such information, and many colleges have objected. They have suggested that the information can’t be obtained; that data would be flawed because graduates of some programs at a college might see different career results than others at the same institution; that such a system would jeopardize student privacy; that it would penalize colleges with programs whose graduates might not earn the most one year out, but five or more years out.

At the University of Texas System, we have found a solution – at least within our own state – and, for the first time, are able to provide valuable information to our students and their families. We are doing so without assuming that data one year out is better or worse than a longer time frame – only that students and families should be able to have lots of statistics to examine. We formed a partnership with the Texas Workforce Commission that gives us access to the quarterly earnings records of our students who have graduated since 2001-02 and are found working in Texas. While most of our alumni do work in Texas, a similar partnership with the Social Security Administration might make this approach possible for institutions whose alumni scatter more than ours do.

With that data, we created seekUT, an online, interactive tool — accessible via desktop, tablet, and mobile device — that provides data on salaries and debt of UT System alumni who earned undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees for 1, 5, and 10 years after graduation. The data are broken down by specific degrees and majors since we know that an education major and an engineering major from the same institution – both valuable to society – are unlikely to earn the same amount. Also, seekUT introduces the reality of student loan debt to prospective and graduate students. In addition to average total student loan debt, it shows estimated monthly loan payment alongside monthly income, as well as the debt-to-income ratio. And because this is shown over time, students get a longer view of how that debt load might play out over the course of their career as their earnings increase over time.

When we present data in this way, we provide students information to make important decisions about how much debt they can realistically afford to acquire based on what their potential earnings might be, not just a year after graduation, but 5 and 10 years down the road. Students and families can use seekUT to help inform decisions about their education and to plan for their financial future.

Admittedly, it is an incomplete picture. Many of our graduates, especially those with advanced degrees, leave the state. If they enroll elsewhere to continue their education, we can discover that through the National Student Clearinghouse StudentTracker. But for those who are not enrolled, there is no information. In lieu of a federal database, we are exploring other options and partnerships to help fill in these holes, but, for now, there are gaps.

With unit record data we can inform current and prospective students about past performance for graduates in their same major; this is a highly valuable product of this level of data. Access to this information in a user-friendly format can directly benefit students by offering real insights — not just alumni stories or survey-based information — into outcomes. The intent is not to change anyone’s major or sway them from their passion, but, instead, to help students make the decisions now that will allow them to pursue that passion after graduation.

There are a multitude of areas we need to explore, both to answer questions about how our universities are performing and to provide much-needed information to current and prospective students. The only way to definitively provide this important information is through unit-record data.

We recognize that there are legitimate concerns, especially given the nearly constant headlines regarding data breaches, about protecting student privacy and data. And the more expansive the data pool, the larger and more appealing the target. A federal student database may be an attractive target to hackers. But these risks can be mitigated — and are, in fact, on a daily basis by university institutional research offices, as well as state and federal agencies. We safeguard the IDs, locking down access to the original file, and not using any identified data for analysis. And when we display information, we do not include any data for cell sizes less than five. This has been true for the student data that we have always held. Given these safeguards, I believe that the need for the data and the benefits of having access to it far outweigh the risks.

seekUT is an example of just some of what higher education institutions can do with access to their workforce data. But for all its importance, seekUT is a tool to provide users access to the information, to inform individual decisions. It is from the deeper research and analysis of these data, however, that we may see major changes and shifts in the policies that impact all students. That is the true power of these data.

For example, while we are gleaning a great deal of helpful information studying our alumni, this same data gives us insights into our current students who are working while enrolled. UT System is currently examining the impact of income, type of work, and place of work (on or off campus) on student persistence and graduation. The results of this study could have an impact on work-study policies across our institutions.

Higher education institutions can leverage data from outside sources to better-understand student outcomes. However, without a federal unit record database, individual institutions will continue to be forced to forge their own partnerships, yielding piecemeal efforts and incomplete stories. We cannot wait; we must forge ahead. Institutions of higher education have a responsibility to students and parents and to the public.


 

Stephanie Bond Huie is vice chancellor of the Office of Strategic Initiatives at the University of Texas System.

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Tennessee athletics to drop 'Lady' from women's programs

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U. of Tennessee angers many fans and alumni with plan to drop the "Lady Vols" logo, which supporters say is a sign of honor. But most colleges that once used such names for women's teams dropped them long ago.

Whistleblower suit alleges Caltech allowed suspected spy to work in jet lab

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Whistle-blower suit alleges that Caltech let a suspected spy keep working at its Jet Propulsion Lab to protect a lucrative federal contract. 

U. of Phoenix and HBCU alliance draws skepticism

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University of Phoenix is looking to work with historically black colleges, and some advocates for the institutions are skeptical.

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