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In 2023, our third year, we published over 40 blog posts in “Beyond Transfer,” elevating the insights of researchers, practitioners, student-focused reformers and students themselves. We were heartened to see the blog continue to serve as a resource and connector for those committed to the fair treatment of learners.

For our part, the Sova credit mobility team found ourselves far-flung and working at various altitudes. In early 2023, we published a series of white papers from the Beyond Transfer Policy Advisory Board on reframing affordability for transfer students, unpacking financial disincentives that stymie degree-applicable credit mobility and centering accreditation as an underappreciated lever for positive change.

Throughout the year we worked on the ground in several states in various capacities, including as facilitators of legislatively mandated committees around major transfer legislation, advisers to state agencies, technical assistance providers to systems and institutions, partners with associations and intermediary organizations serving systems or institutions, and interlocutors with accreditors and technology innovators. We also conducted a national landscape scan focused on outcomes and evidence related to transfer practices and policies and were invited to the U.S. Department of Education’s first-ever summit on transfer student success. Last year was one of tremendous learning for our team.

Working in the weeds on transfer in diverse contexts like California, Michigan, Minnesota and Texas allowed us to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges that hold the status quo in place. We also learned more about core drivers and potential levers for positive change and about the real work it takes to center students in the reform of institutional policy and practice.

Forces Holding the Status Quo in Place

When it comes to the forces that hold the status quo in place, the culprits include:

  1. Data systems and practices that continue to lag in surprising and unsurprising ways.
  • State and system-level data provide few insights on transfer and data sharing across institutions is still garbage in far too many instances.
  • Within institutions, excellent data-use practices are rare. Even highly recognized transfer programs do not have disaggregated longitudinal progression and outcomes data.
  • Goal setting and progress monitoring around transfer outcomes remain the exception rather than the rule.
  • Some of the most exciting technological innovations in the credit-mobility space will require much higher levels of clean data and data sharing than are currently in place. Foundational work needs to start now to realize the promise of next-level innovation.
  1. Evidence related to the most commonly implemented reforms is thin and/or conflicting.
  • Transfer and articulation agreements have not leveled the playing field for students. Indeed, many see the typical institution-to-institution articulation agreement as a distraction, siphoning time and resources away from the harder work of building easily navigable guaranteed transfer pathways that ensure students can complete on time.
  • Transfer pathways (program maps and transfer advising) are vital pieces of the puzzle, but they are insufficient for achieving equitable transfer outcomes.
  • Promoting or requiring associate degree completion shows very mixed results by state and program. More decisive research is needed, but we know now that the associate degree is not always—in all contexts or in all programs of study—valuable.
  • Layering advising or communications efforts on top of overly complex, competing systems has limited returns. Even faculty and advisers continue to be routinely stymied by the transfer maze. Ultimately, simplifying the complexity of credit mobility is the work to be done.
  1. Barriers to fair treatment of students and their learning exist across sectors and at all types of institutions.
  • Program requirements at community colleges are developed in isolation, without transfer in mind.
  • Standard approaches to credit evaluation are deeply and inherently inequitable. They are also an administrative burden that comes at a financial cost to institutions, though few view them in that light.
  • Financial shock, hidden prerequisites and lack of access to required courses and services/supports greet community college students upon transfer to universities.
  • Financial disincentives for improving seamless and efficient transfer are embedded in the business and operating models of both sending and receiving institutions, and attention needs to be placed and kept here until these models are reformed.

Cause for Optimism

When it comes to the learning from 2023 that fuels our excitement and hope, the headlines include:

  • Dissatisfaction with the status quo is bipartisan, and a desire to hold institutions accountable for fair treatment of students is growing across the ideological spectrum. Regardless of politics, many want to see improvements in transfer and credit mobility for reasons that range from supporting employer demands for a credentialed workforce to reducing taxpayer burden for paying for duplicated courses and promoting equitable outcomes for students from low-income backgrounds and communities of color who are overrepresented at community colleges. Improving transfer students’ experiences and outcomes represents a much-needed and widely desired opportunity to show ourselves that we are capable of solving tough problems together across ideological divisions without getting mired in distracting culture wars nonsense.
  • Technology advancements, while never a silver bullet, are showing great promise for dramatically improving credit mobility. A number of researchers are doubling down on the application of machine learning to credit mobility and program mapping. In addition to advancements in student-facing technologies, there are also encouraging advancements in system-facing technologies capable of making transparent how credits are (or are not) being applied in transfer. We’re particularly interested in the impact on students of the bureaucracy around credit evaluation and mobility and how AI might assist in transforming credit evaluation processes to make them faster and fairer.
  • Anxieties related to demographic shifts and the ongoing decline of confidence in the value of postsecondary education fuel a growing sense of urgency. This urgency is helpful to leaders at every level who are willing to be courageous in the work of prioritizing students’ interests. There are so many talented humans trying to do good work for students from within outdated, broken or dysfunctional systems—they need courageous leaders to set the expectations, provide cover and support and stoke the embers of shared purpose.

As we look ahead to the coming year, we’re excited to keep learning up close from our work in several states and to deepening our partnerships with so many valued partners, including Inside Higher Ed, the Beyond Transfer Policy Advisory Board, WSCUC, AACRAO, the American Council on Education, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education and other organizations.

The Beyond Transfer Policy Advisory Board will be digging into mechanisms for disrupting the surprisingly hardy status quo around transfer and credit mobility. To do so, the board will collaborate with finance and policy experts and partners such as accreditors, the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers and ACE. The PAB’s 2024 goal is to deconstruct current incentives that focus on traditional metrics of success and build new reputational and financial incentives and accountability measures that demand attention from leaders. By directly rewarding institutions for prioritizing fair treatment for students who transfer and can benefit from credit mobility, the PAB hopes to develop a better blueprint for dramatic improvements in student outcomes.

Because the Sova team knows that improving outcomes for transfer students is grinding work that requires a high tolerance for pain, we’ll be keenly interested to learn more about the things that fuel joyful tenacity and mindful experiences in the pursuit of dramatic improvements for transfer students. The work that most needs doing will never get done without a strong sense of purpose and possibility. We invite you to share your insights! You can reach us at

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