• Beyond Transfer

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Faculty as Transfer Champions

Professors and adjuncts have a profound impact on those who move from community colleges to universities.

December 1, 2021

I’ve seen that faculty can make a tremendous difference in creating a sense of belonging for transfer students at a community college and a four-year institution. I’ve seen the opposite, too: if faculty aren’t engaged in the transfer work, campus cultures are less welcoming to transfers.

I’ve seen this because I’ve been a community college transfer student, a transfer center director and a researcher of the transfer student experience.

When I conducted research for my dissertation at UCLA, one student told me she wished that faculty had a guide to better understanding the unique experiences of transfer students.

That’s why I am over-the-moon excited that Shanna Smith Jaggars and Marcos D. Rivera, researchers in the Office of Student Academic Success at Ohio State University, have published a tool kit for transfer champions to help develop transfer-receptive cultures. Here are three things transfer champions can do to engage faculty on transfer student success:

  • Involve faculty in decision making around transfer students. Support this by helping them understand the financial implications of transfer students to their departments, and see that supporting transfer students is aligned with their core responsibilities.
  • Cultivate faculty understanding of the unique needs and experiences of transfers by elevating transfer student voices. Use this awareness to support equitable admissions processes and necessary student resources.
  • Support an inclusive and rigorous academic experience for transfer students by encouraging faculty to innovate and engage in social or academic interactions with their university or community college faculty peers.

These three points prompted me to reflect on ways we engaged faculty to build a transfer-receptive culture when I worked at UCLA.

We invited faculty members to join academic advising, admissions, financial aid, student affairs and, of course, student representatives on transfer success teams, task forces, advisory boards and other groups aimed at supporting the transfer community. For example, we developed the Transfer Success Team and the University of California Transfer Success Coalition (UCTSC) to remove academic and social barriers for students transitioning from community colleges. Other four-year institutions have developed transfer-specific success teams, including Central Washington University, North Carolina State University, the University of Maryland and the University of Minnesota.

These teams make crucial decisions about institutional transfer practice and policy design and implementation. But they are also critical to culture building. The cross-functional nature of the teams provides faculty members the opportunity to engage in important outside-the-classroom activities. For example, at UCLA, we got faculty to join in a media campaign and other events for Transfer Pride Week (UCLA’s celebration of National Transfer Student Week).

Having these faculty transfer champions on committees is great. What’s better? More faculty transfer champions! The UCLA Transfer Student Center and the Center for Community College Partnerships relied on faculty transfer success team members to build greater awareness and support among their peers through department or Faculty Senate meetings. UCLA and other institutions have created transfer advocacy trainings that can be adapted for faculty meetings. These provide an overview of the transfer community, what resources are available for transfers and what faculty can do to help shift culture for transfers.

I’ve seen these champions do incredible things, especially for the academic experience—where faculty can do what they do best! At UCLA, faculty developed a free, credit-bearing first-year student course specifically for transfers (notably, Marion Gabra, who, after a spirited lunch discussing the advantages of having transfers in the classroom, pulled the bureaucratic strings needed to make it happen).

Patricia Phelps and Anthony Friscia developed a transfer-specific orientation for the physiological science department to build a more transfer receptive environment. Through this event, transfers can meet one another, learn about faculty expectations and share concerns going into the year.

Faculty can also start small to have a big impact on transfer students’ academic experiences. We hosted coffee and tea office hours with faculty at the UCLA transfer center. These office hours provided students an informal opportunity to connect and share their interests with faculty. By inviting faculty into a space where transfer students felt comfortable, we were able to limit the intimidation some students felt meeting faculty in their offices. I also like the idea of transfer mentorship programs, like the faculty mentor program at Appalachian State University or the faculty coaching pilot at Trident College.

For more inspiration, here are five essential faculty practices from Xueli Wang, Peter Felten, Lance Gooden, Jon Iuzzini and Emily Kittrell that support faculty in reframing the ways they think about, teach, advise and mentor transfer students. I also recommend this report from the RP Group, because it provides faculty with clear steps to improving transfer readiness in the classroom. And books like Power to the Transfer and On My Own spotlight the role faculty plays in the transfer journey.

Since my time at UCLA, field leaders have developed so many resources for supporting faculty in advancing transfer student success. For that student who wished for a faculty guidebook on transfer—she’s thrilled that her wish came true! My wish for the future is that transfer champions across the nation engage as many faculty as possible with these tools.

Do you have ideas for engaging faculty in the transfer student experience? Let me know.

Heather Adams is a senior program manager at the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program, leading the development of transfer initiatives.


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