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An interview with Lorain County Community College and Cleveland State University

Over the past two years, the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities have supported the first two cohorts of the Transfer Student Success and Equity Intensive, a national effort to accelerate transfer reform at scale.

Lorain County Community College (LCCC) and Cleveland State University were among 71 institutions to use the initiative to deepen their transfer partnership. Aspen recently connected with Brenda Pongracz and Jonathan Dryden of Lorain County and Jonathan Wehner of Cleveland State to discuss how they are making progress toward their Strategic Transfer Excellence Plan (STEP). In this Q&A, they share how cabinet leaders can keep transfer a priority on their campuses. The LCCC and Cleveland State teams also discuss the data they use to track transfer student success and the role presidents play in prioritizing and moving this work forward.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: It’s been around six months since your institutions set your strategic transfer excellence plan. What are one or two early wins that other institutions can learn from?

Pongracz: Transfer advisers and staff from both institutions have established monthly meetings to work through existing barriers. These groups have worked to develop transfer agreements for our engineering programs. Through increased conversation and collaboration, Lorain has created a culture that encourages faculty and staff to become actively engaged in these conversations, making it a massive win for both Lorain and CSU.

Wehner: Establishing a formal meeting schedule and organizational structure for transfer between our institutions’ senior leadership and folks closest to the process has been a huge win. In addition to making progress on engineering that Brenda mentioned, CSU has worked to identify opportunities for additional program pathway development, which is a big part of our STEP.

Q: What role do cabinet leaders have to play in ensuring the president and the rest of the campus team advance their commitment to transfer? How has it worked for you all so far?

Dryden: Transfer was already an institutional priority for us when we began our work with the intensive. It took little effort then to ensure the conversation on transfer occurred at the cabinet level with the president and vice presidents. In my one-on-one meetings with President Ballinger, we often connect transfer to Lorain’s strategic priorities, including how our transfer pathways meet the workforce needs of northeast Ohio. This outlook brought us naturally to CSU, our biggest transfer partner. Both Lorain’s president, Dr. Marcia Ballinger, and CSU’s president, Dr. Laura Bloomberg, belong to Team Northeast Ohio (Team NEO), an economic development organization that helps connect higher education to industries by identifying workforce priorities and where there are talent gaps. Specifically, they serve on Team NEO’s Talent Development Council for the entire 18-county region.

Wehner: On the four-year side, freshman enrollment grabs all the headlines, so ensuring transfer stays on the president’s radar is essential to being the cabinet lead. Some institutions can take transfer enrollment for granted, but for CSU, it has historically been one of our largest sources of enrollment.

As a cabinet member advocating for transfer, it is essential to engage individuals like the CFO, chief student affairs officer and chief marketing officer and explain the piece of the puzzle that transfer plays. Within this conversation, it’s also important to emphasize their team’s role in executing this vision.

Q: Which stakeholders do you need at the table to operationalize your transfer priorities? How do you ensure this group regularly meets/coordinates to advance those priorities?

Wehner: Our work with the Transfer Intensive made us realize the importance of organizational structure within our approach to transfer. Initially, we had staff from various departments working on transfer that rarely collaborated. Now, we have established a consolidated unit that takes on the day-to-day work of transfer. In addition to our reimagined transfer team, we find it vital to have our president, vice president of enrollment management, dean of admissions and registrar at the table to operationalize CSU’s transfer priorities.

Pongracz: Our transfer coordinator and partnership developer (who serves as a primary liaison with university partners, LCCC academic divisions and external organizations to cultivate an understanding of the partnership and the collaboration needed to fulfill the mission and goals of the university plan) are the two roles that come to mind. They produce initial transfer plans and ideas before sharing them with faculty. We also work closely with CSU’s team, which regularly attends meetings with our advisers.

Dryden: When the leadership team from CSU came to Lorain for our kickoff meeting, we had our deans, associate provost and vice presidents at the table to establish the transfer partnership as a priority and to discuss where there are opportunities to further develop a working relationship.

Q: What has it been like to get faculty buy-in, especially with the pathway programs?

Wehner: Initially, there was a lot of skepticism and questioning of educational standards. We have found that bringing faculty from both institutions together through structured programming has dispelled much of the skepticism. There is also a collective acknowledgment that both institutions desire to increase enrollment. Pathway programs are a great way to do just that.

Pongracz: A sizable number of Lorain’s faculty members are alumni of CSU! They understand the programs and educational foundations that CSU’s faculty values and have maintained connections with CSU faculty. The success of our 3+1 partnership in Psychology is due in large part to the strong faculty engagement at both institutions.

Dryden: Our transfer center staff have also identified areas of curricular alignment and where there is a need for realignment, streamlining our efforts to establish these pathway programs.

Pongracz: We worked to identify the specific courses that have acted as pain points when trying to transfer credits. Recognizing that and providing faculty with specific questions upfront allowed them to enter these conversations knowing the courses that needed resolution.

Wehner: Ultimately, we know that faculty are super busy. So, anything we can do to smooth the path towards a stronger transfer relationship helps them.

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