College transfer from a two-year to four-year institution in Virginia has historically favored the local four-year institution. A community college student is often guided to transfer to their local four-year university; relatedly, transfer agreements have traditionally been between a community college and its local four-year state college, disadvantaging students from other community colleges. The tendency for transfer students to choose their local four-year college is furthered by first-generation college students’ tendency to choose institutions geographically closer. As referenced in this Inside Higher Ed article, over 50 percent of first-gen students name “close to home” as a major factor in choice. Transfer Virginia has helped open doors for all students to explore transfer destinations beyond their local four-year university.
In 2018, the Virginia Legislature sought to improve the transparency of transfer and the equity of credits awarded for transfer courses and reduce lost credits to students who transfer within the state. The Transfer Virginia initiative resulted in a web portal that addressed these features. While not central to the original legislative aims of Transfer Virginia, the portal also provides students with new opportunities and access to look beyond the local four-year transfer partner.
The Transfer Virginia portal allows students to think about transfer not abstractly but concretely, providing a visual on how credits apply to a degree, what degrees are offered by each institution, college fit and cost, and the means for a student to connect to the college of their choice. This is where students can also begin to look more broadly and deeply at potential transfer destinations.
Students planning to attend a community college may be more focused on their degree and the most efficient way to a degree, but finding the right fit matters. For a student to be successful, they need to find the right major and the right college. Academics (majors and courses), college size, location (including distance from home and proximity to internship or career opportunities) and extracurricular activities including sports and clubs might be taken into consideration as a student explores their college options. The portal simplifies the ability to explore.
In Virginia, over 60 institutions, including a system of 23 community colleges, one junior college and a mix of public and private four-year colleges and universities, participate in the Transfer Virginia Portal. The portal is a valuable resource for students in their pursuit of college information. They can virtually discover and investigate colleges and see how vast the different possibilities are, geographically across the state, setting and size. Instead of going from college website to college website, a student using the portal sees a standardized view to find the same information for different colleges.
Students can search for programs of study at both two-year and four-year institutions to make sure they follow the best degree for their chosen career. Through the portal, they can search which colleges offer specific programs, find transfer pathways from one degree to another and suggest the right degree for a preferred career (or what careers are likely with a particular degree).
A student is able to upload their course grades, standardized exams (AP, CLEP and IB, for example) and industry credentials. Using Check My Credits, the portal-equivalency database returns an estimated number of credits to be awarded by each participating institution. This improves the transparency of transfer by displaying the items consistently. With the information publicly available, the student is empowered with the knowledge of what will be awarded at different institutions.
Greater value is given when a student can see how their transfer credits apply to their chosen program (or across multiple programs to help make a knowledgeable choice). Portfolio items and their associated transfer credit awards show up on the course-by-course program-requirements detail. In this way, a student is less likely to lose transfer credits if they can choose between degree programs and determine which has more applicable credits. In Virginia, the completion of a transfer-approved associate degree guarantees the fulfillment of at least 30 credits of general education courses at all public institutions and most privates, making transfer opportunities more transparent and accessible.
But there is a new way to focus on transfer credits: the transfer guide. Building on a community college common curriculum, a transfer guide is a pathway that shows the preferred courses to be completed in an associate degree program to then transfer into a specific institution’s bachelor’s degree program. These transfer guides make it possible for any Virginia community college student to learn about, plan for and transfer to programs across the state without credit loss.
The portal has many additional features, including transfer steps that can help any student but may offer great assistance to first-generation students as they navigate the college transfer process. The Resource Center houses worksheets and student-focused documents and the transfer guides. Finally, College Connect allows students to contact the college of their choice and share their portfolio information and a message. All these features help a student learn more about college transfer and gives them the ability to ask questions and get answers directly from colleges, thus helping them explore options to find the college that is the right fit—academically, extracurricularly and personally.
Maybe that student ends up transferring to a college in their backyard or maybe to a school across the state they previously hadn’t considered, imagined or even known about. Regardless of the ultimate transfer destination, by using the Transfer Virginia Portal to explore their college options, students are making an informed choice that will benefit them and increase their chance of having a fulfilling college experience that leads to a bachelor’s degree.