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Students walk on Georgia State's campus on a sunny day.

Leaders at Georgia State reimagined their transfer student processes to support retention and graduation of transfer and transition students.

Georgia State University

Transfer can be a confusing process for the student, even more so if the institution isn’t prepared to provide clear, direct and timely support. At Georgia State University, administrators and researchers at the National Institute for Student Success (NISS) recognized a need to re-evaluate how transfer students were being onboarded to the university and how the system could be improved to maximize student success.

The initiative, highlighted at NASPA’s Conferences for Student Success in Higher Education in Anaheim, Calif., has helped increase successful transfer to the institution, which leaders hope will trickle into larger student success metrics.

What’s the need: Upward transfer is a challenge for community college students nationally as they navigate two institutions’ academic requirements and bureaucratic processes.  

Georgia State has articulation agreements with surrounding community colleges and also allows students to transfer from one of its five perimeter campuses to the Atlanta flagship if they so choose. These students who move through the Georgia State system are considered transition, rather than transfer, students because they already belong to the university, said Priscilla Bell, associate director of research at NISS.

Georgia State data showed that, in 2022, there was a 15 percent decrease in transfer students and 18 percent decrease among transition students. Nationally, a 2023 report from the report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found upward transfer fell 7.5 percent in fall 2022 compared to the year prior. 

Campus stakeholders had a center in mind as a solution to improve processes and in 2023 established a working group to build one.

Understanding challenges: First, Bell met with seven administrators to conduct interviews and identify some of the challenges at the university. The two common themes identified were personnel issues and the articulation process itself.

Previously, Georgia State’s admissions and advising staff had shared responsibilities to manage first-year and transfer student communications, which meant the summer came with the demands of helping onboard students at orientation and conducting articulation for transfer credits.

The articulation process itself also took a long time, with no clear system or flow about how to input and award credits. For special cases, academic departments could be slow to respond during the summer, creating a longer lag in communication between the student and the institution. These delays would create a ripple effect with yield concerns and impact a student’s course progression.

Making changes: When building the center, two key goals were to use as few resources as possible and to integrate technology to better serve students.

Administrators reorganized staff from the admissions and advising offices, putting them together under a director, who was promoted from the advising side. Leaders discussed adding a specific recruitment staff member but instead established one member who serves as the liaison between the two teams, joining regular meetings but still housed in recruitment.

The process took about six months, which included rewriting staffs’ titles and responsibilities and establishing a physical space for them on campus in the admissions department. One of the primary challenges was working with personnel to assuage and address concerns about their relocation and job security, reassuring them that the changes were not removing their work but instead creating additional capacity to better serve students.

Supporting Transfer

Other colleges are investing in transfer student supports to improve articulation and graduation.

It was important to ensure employees felt their jobs were safe and this was a change for the better, but this took time and attention from management.

Administrators also invested in technology—Smart Panda—to automate transcript filing, which had been a manual job allocated to a group of processors who added each course to a student’s profile. Now, transcripts are uploaded and read and processors review the information to ensure accuracy.

The center opened late last fall and started operations by the end of the term, about 18 months after the working group began meeting.

The impact: Since launching, the office has benefited from the consolidation of resources, with processors having a greater capacity to advise students around their credit transfer and supporting new projects the transfer center is launching.

The office also employs Navigate360 to send automated advising emails, unburdening the advisers from constant outreach. Each email provides onboarding details such as dates, campus resources, a timeline of next steps and, later in the summer, an introduction to the student’s adviser. By then, advisers have completed summer orientation processes, allowing them to devote more time to transfer students.

During spring 2024, Georgia State saw transfers increase by 328 applications, which has resulted in increased acceptances and enrollments.

What’s next? Staff hope to grow the center’s physical footprint, making the space more transfer student–friendly with a microwave, fridge, lockers and other needed amenities.

Leaders are also considering adding transfer programming through near-peer mentoring or hiring graduate assistants to facilitate social and academic programs.

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