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A small group of university students are seen sitting side by side at a desk in class as they work on an assignment. They each have books open in front of them as they collaborate and share ideas.

Investing in upward transfer programs and supports has helped many colleges to promote transfer students’ success.

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In fall 2022, upward transfers from community colleges to universities fell 7.5 percent year over year and 14.5 percent relative to fall 2020, according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Transfer continues to be a challenge for many students due to institutional barriers that force them to navigate the process alone.

To improve the transfer experience for students as well as retention and graduation rates, colleges and universities can establish partnerships and solutions that reinforce the transfer pipeline.

Here are four ways institutions are promoting transfer student success.

  1. Making transfer visible.

One of the greatest barriers to successful transfer or graduation is a credit transfer. The average student loses 43 percent of their credits when transferring, according to 2017 data from the U.S. Government Accountability Office. However, community college students who are able to transfer most of their credits are 2.5 times more likely to attain a bachelor’s degree compared to their peers who transferred fewer than half of their credits, according to a 2015 study.

Tallahassee Community College revised its advising system in 2020 to create customized academic plans for students to help them select and register for classes that will benefit them most. Advisers help students identify the requirements of their desired four-year institution and field of study and map them onto a plan, making the process less complicated for students.

Franklin University in Ohio created an online transfer portal for its partner community colleges, allowing students to see exactly which of their existing credits and future courses will apply to a bachelor’s degree program at the university. The portal also allows students to apply for transfer directly and provides a financial incentive for doing so—lower tuition rates.

  1. Developing two-year pathways at universities.

Some four-year institutions have increased opportunities for students looking to earn an associate degree to complete the requirement directly at their institution, with the option to transfer to a bachelor’s program later.

Dougherty Family College at the University of St. Thomas provides wraparound supports for low-income and underrepresented minority students to earn their associate degree, including scholarships, basic needs support, school supplies, peer and staff mentorship, and a paid internship. The two-year degree program covers the core requirement of Minnesota institutions, making it possible for students to transfer to any other institution in the state if they so choose.

The University of Dayton partnered with the local Sinclair Community College to create UD Sinclair Academy, which enrolls students in Sinclair courses for their first two years and directly transitions them into one of 100 UD degree programs.

Fairfield University in fall 2023 launched the Fairfield Bellarmine two-year degree program, which gives low-income students a significantly discounted tuition rate as they complete their associate degree. Upon completion, Fairfield Bellarmine students have a transfer pathway to Fairfield U or Albertus Magnus College, thanks to a recent partnership between the two institutions.

  1. Sharing physical space.

Rather than creating a new pipeline within the four-year institution, some partnerships create a shared physical space to help transfers.

Salt Lake Community College and the University of Utah created a shared building on SLCC’s Herriman Campus, enrolling students for both associate and bachelor’s programs, meaning a student can complete coursework for both institutions on the same campus. The facility opened in August 2023 for its first cohort of students.

Butler County Community College and Pennsylvania State University at Shenango are also considering putting BCCC’s campus on the university grounds to save money due to enrollment declines.

  1. Creating belonging in the institution.

Once students are enrolled at a four-year institution, persistence and completion become the next challenges for transfers. NSC data found, among upward transfers in 2016, 25 percent complete in four years and 52 percent complete in five years.

After students transfer to Stockton University, they can opt in to a transfer-only seminar course to fulfill credit requirements for their major as well as engage with other new transfers to the university, giving them a space to build relationships and navigate the institution together.

At the University of California, San Diego, the Triton Transfer Hub provides a physical space for transfers to engage with their peers, connect with staff and get assistance. The office prioritizes giving transfers a comfortable place to hang out or study, with free printing, coffee and snacks, and it can help get them plugged in to UCSD and prepared to graduate.

Mercer County Community College students can live in Rider University dorms as of this fall, accommodating students with housing insecurity with discounted rates and transportation between the two campuses but also giving students access to university facilities. The hope is that MCCC students feel integrated into the Rider campus community prior to transfer, which officials hope will boost retention.

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