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With yesterday’s inauguration of Joseph R. Biden Jr. as the 46th president, it’s a new dawn in America. President Biden campaigned on a message of unity and inclusion that resonated with many Americans who, after a prolonged global pandemic and deep economic recession, are desperately in need of a hand up. Just last week, Biden called for a historic $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package to provide immediate financial relief to the many families who are struggling to meet their basic needs, like rent, food and childcare.

But restoring economic opportunity in this country will be a longer-term effort, particularly for marginalized and minoritized communities of color. While campaigning, Biden made it clear that higher education has a central role to play in spurring inclusive economic growth and expanding socioeconomic mobility. He laid out a robust college access and affordability agenda that included increasing need-based aid for low-income students, encouraging community college enrollment and reining in ballooning student loan debt.

What’s missing from this agenda, however, is a clear focus on improving the community college transfer pipeline. For too long, we have sold students and families across the country false promises about transfer, encouraging them to enroll in community college as a more affordable way to achieve the same end goal of a bachelor’s degree. We have looked aside as the data routinely demonstrated systemic failures of epic proportion: of the 80 percent of students who enter community college with a goal of transferring and obtaining a bachelor’s degree, just 13 percent make it through in six years. Our transfer pipeline has done even worse by low-income students and Black, Indigenous and Latinx students, who are about half as likely to reach completion -- yet we continue to disproportionately funnel them to this pathway.

To be clear, not everyone is looking the other way. For many years now, there have been notable efforts underway across institutions, regions and states to reverse these trends and take greater responsibility for transfer student success. Through Tackling Transfer, we have been fortunate to partner with some of the most committed and relentless change agents on the ground, including:

  • Community college and four-year university leaders across Texas who are collaborating to align academic programs, improve transfer student advising and share data to evaluate transfer student success as part of the Texas Transfer Alliance’s Transfer Partnership Strategy;
  • State government and higher education system leaders such as those at the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia and the Virginia Community Colleges who are working to streamline transfer and close student equity gaps under Transfer Virginia; and
  • Community-based organizations, students and advocates like those represented within the Minnesota Education Equity Partnership who are building increased urgency and political will to further improve transfer as part of a broader racial equity agenda for higher education in the state.

But for too long efforts such as these to improve transfer policy and practice have been siloed and disconnected. What we need now to accelerate progress is an active partner in the White House who can increase federal investment and mobilize more stakeholders to build momentum nationally. We don’t pretend that it will be easy or purport to have all the answers, but we are working now with a group of bold thinkers and doers under the Tackling Transfer Policy Advisory Board to develop actionable ideas for state and federal policy makers that are informed by the good work on the ground.

We look forward to partnering with the Biden administration to elevate transfer so that we can finally deliver on the promise of college access, affordability and equitable completion.

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