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How many of us have asked ourselves “Why can’t transfer just be easier?” As most of us working in higher education know, transfer is not always a straightforward process. I’ve experienced transfer from multiple vantage points, including starting my educational journey as a transfer student. While we have come a long way since then, there is always room for improvement.

After high school, I studied at my local community college for two years. At the time, and without understanding the implications, I prioritized transferring to a four-year university rather than completing an associate degree. I then transferred from one university and major to another university and major after one year. I lost credits and time along the way but eventually completed my bachelor’s degree in psychology with no idea what to do next. Happenstance would have it that I would start my career in higher education thanks to an externship just before graduation.

That one-week experience, in the career services department of a neighboring university, changed the trajectory of my professional life and piqued my interest in higher education. It also served as a catalyst to a position as a community college academic adviser. I worked as an adviser for a few years before earning a master’s degree in community and college counseling. Following graduate school, I served students as a community college transfer counselor. I felt that I had truly come full circle.

I advised Virginia community college students for 15 years and thought I would continue to serve students throughout my entire career. Then, in 2018, legislation mandated that the state improve transfer through what became the Transfer Virginia initiative. This statewide charge required participation from each college and university in Virginia. Initially, I served as a Transfer Virginia representative for my community college. I was passionate about the mission given my experience as a transfer student and a transfer counselor witnessing my students’ challenges.

As the initiative evolved, and my interest and involvement grew, I found it difficult to split my time between meeting with students and contributing to the improvement of transfer in Virginia. The work was moving quickly, and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to be a part of it. In addition to serving as a Transfer Virginia representative, I was also serving on several institutional and state-level committees and co-founded and co-chaired a new transfer-advising peer group to connect transfer advisers across the state and share best practices and resources.

I was proud of what I was achieving and felt that my career was flourishing. I enjoyed networking with colleagues at both two- and four-year colleges and universities and was drawn to transfer work over everything else, particularly during and after the pandemic with declining enrollment and students with much greater needs than course selection. I was burning out and, in my heart, I wanted to devote all my effort to help improve transfer in Virginia. My personal experience had already revealed the complexities of transfer. My professional experience as a transfer counselor revealed even more as I navigated the inconsistent and varying requirements of four-year colleges and universities for transfer students.

I navigated these complexities by establishing relationships with college and university representatives across the state along with developing rapport and trust with students by sharing my story and ensuring they knew my path to transfer and graduation was what “not to do.” Now, I was in a position to clear the path for transfer students like myself. In February 2023, I took a leap (metaphorically and physically as the job is over 2 hours away from where I live) from community college transfer counseling to higher education policy at the state level. This leap did not come without sacrifice. I would miss working directly with students and I would be traveling a lot more, but I knew if I didn’t take this chance, I would regret it.

Now, I devote most of my time to transfer statewide. I continue to co-chair the community college transfer-adviser peer group and even though I no longer work directly with students, it’s through my interactions with transfer advisers that I’m able to ensure that the decisions being made at the state level are positively impacting them.

When I reflect on my journey, I wonder what my 18-year-old self would think if I told her this is where she would be now. Transfer is still complicated, complex and frustrating at times, but I’ve seen how far we’ve come. While we may still have a way to go, we are on the right track. We get to support the next generation of transfer students and leave higher education a little bit better than how we found it.

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