John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

We Weren’t Designed for These People: Discrimination against Transfer Students – Part One

John N. Gardner

As part of the Foundations of Excellence® Transfer Focus self study process, one of the core services provided by the non-profit organization which I lead, we work with institutions to complete what we call a “Current Practices Inventory (CPI)”. This CPI includes an enumeration of all the policies, rules, etc that pertain to transfer students. Another part of the Inventory is a listing of all the programs and interventions offered to assist transfer students, rationale and goals for such interventions and numbers and proportions of total population served. This inventory is part of an overall process of self study to critically examine everything the institution does, either to send transfer students or to receive them. This self study then becomes the basis for an action plan to improve institutional performance.

It has been in the process of assisting institutions in this Foundations of Excellence self study process, that we have had the opportunity to observe colleges and universities, particularly those on the receiving end, identify and acknowledge both policies and practices that we could label as discriminatory, meaning providing less favorable treatment for transfer students than that received by “native” students.

Perhaps the most important statement I can make about what all this means is to suggest that almost all American colleges and universities were NOT designed for transfer students. They were designed many decades, even centuries ago, and that design and accompanying culture remains dominant. And this is a culture that assumes that students come to the institution, most often as a first choice, often live on campus, do not pursue remunerative employment while in college, attend full time, and remain at the same institution for the entire undergraduate period. For students who can experience that kind of undergraduate education, indeed college works very well. No surprise – that’s what it was designed to do. But for students who enter after the traditional beginning term or year, that is who “transfer”, the experience is very different.

In our work with these “transfer focus” self studies we have observed institutions discovering and honestly reporting that they have policies and practices which by design favor “native” over transfer students. These are policies with respect to these critical areas:

1.    Acceptance of credits

2.    Financial aid

3.    On-campus residential living

4.    Orientation

5.    Academic advising

6.    Registration

7.    Eligibility for participation in student organizations

8.    Opportunity for on-campus employment

Let’s consider just the first two in this posting and we can address the others in remaining posts.

1. Acceptance of credits: students who start at institution A are much more likely to have their general education credits earned at institution A apply to bachelors degrees of choice awarded by institution A. These so-called “native” students, especially in large institutions, still will face internal transfer, but they will fare better than external transfers.

2. Financial aid: it is commonly the case that institutional aid (non federal or state funded aid) is given priority to native continuing students, as opposed to new incoming transfer students. It is far less common for there to be special or substantial set asides of aid for transfer students.

And we are just getting started. Stay tuned for more. And be thinking of whether or not your institution discriminates against transfer students.

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