The Transfer Experience Versus The First-Year Experience: How Do They Measure Up?
I have just returned from a stimulating professional development experience, the 15th annual National Conference on Transfer, hosted by the NISTS, the National Institute for the Study of the Transfer Student. NISTS is located at the University of North Georgia. Founded by Dr. Bonita Jacobs, their President at UNG, this work was originally birthed when she was the chief students affairs officer at the University of North Texas. The meeting has been held each year in late January/February windows in either Dallas or Atlanta. Next year it will be in Atlanta again, February 7-9.
I am interested in the transfer student experience for multiple reasons:
- As a national higher education system, our performance with them in terms of getting them to BA degree attainment has been miserable.
- Transfer is now the normative route to the bachelor’s degree.
- My finding and contention is that transfer is still relatively low status—that is what I am writing about here.
- Earlier in my career at the University of South Carolina I founded a conference in 1995 and it is still going strong; “Students in Transition” which features a track on transfer students. The next meeting will be held in Costa Mesa, CA, October 21-23, 2017. http://sc.edu/fye/.
- The non-profit organization (http://www.jngi.org) I lead has been trying to make a dent in this low priority since we launched in 2010 our Foundations of Excellence Transfer Focus process (http://www.jngi.org/foe-program/transfer-focus/), an assessment and planning initiative to provide for institutions a comprehensive plan to improve transfer—which few campuses have and all need. We have engaged sixty institutions in this work: 24 four-year and 36 two-year colleges and universities.
- Our non-profit, Gardner Institute, is also a current recipient of a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation planning grant to plan new work to integrate into high failure rate gateway courses taken by transfers digital learning components and pedagogies.
So all of the above lines of interest coalesced and brought me to this excellent transfer conference, February 15-17 for my second experience in this meeting.
In my work on transfer student success I have several dominant lenses in which I view the current status of transfers.
The first is that I see the level of attention and priority paid to transfer students as being about what that level of attention and priority was towards first-year students in the early 1980’s.
And second, and the subject of this posting, is that I am so struck by the inequities that are experienced by transfer students.
So just undertake with me a relatively brief and simple comparison of these two populations and especially how we in the academy go about treating them. A way to do this is to use what the Gardner Institute calls in its work a “policy analysis” …. basically an inventory of the policies that are directed towards transfer students and which can be used to compare with comparable policies for first-year students. Consider then the relative policies applying to first-year versus transfer students for:
- Application deadlines for admission
- Capacity for slots in any given academic term
- Financial aid awards—institutional monies, need versus merit based, special awards for first-year versus transfer students—amounts and eligibility guidelines
- Continued eligibility for such awards after first year of enrollment
- Eligibility for on-campus residential accommodations
- Application deadlines for housing
- Priority for allocation of available spaces in housing
- Eligibility for participation in student organizations, clubs, teams, student government, etc.
- Eligibility for leadership positions in student organizations
- Allocation for admission slots into high demand majors
- Registration priority and deadlines
- Availability of student organizations devoted to supporting this cohort
- Availability of special orientation and advising initiatives to support this cohort
- Availability of college/student success-first-year seminars for this population
- Stipulations that certain forms of student support be required versus optional for these populations
- The existence on the campus of a high level academic officer with specific responsibility for the welfare of this cohort
- In like manner, the existence of an advocate, champion at the institutional level, for the needs of this population, other than and beyond processing by Enrollment Management
- In like manner, an advocate at the academic unit in decentralized universities
- The priority for making available “High Impact Practices”
- The availability of such curricular cohorts as learning communities
- Availability of opportunities for on-campus employment
- Availability of opportunities for internships, practicum experiences and study abroad (with financial aid support)
- Internal systems of accountability for retention and graduation rates for this population
- A priority for addressing needs of this population as expressed in the institution’s strategic plan
- Being on the priority list and attention agenda for senior leaders and spokespersons
- A priority for gathering, analyzing, discussing institutional research data
And I am sure the above list is not an exhaustive inventory.
My prediction is that if you undertake such comparisons, you will find the transfer student cohort has drawn a very short stick. And that is our biggest challenge.
And as a mirror of low campus priority, and in part a cause of this lower priority, is the fact that the US Department of Education does not count transfer students in its IPEDS (Integrated Post-Secondary Educational Data System) model for measuring retention and graduation rates.
And hence the media’s ranking processes for institutional prestige, especially USNWR, also does not “count” these students.
So, if you buy my thesis and model here, what might we do to move the transfer experience further along to more closely approximate the status now of “the first-year experience?”
Ah, that calls for another blog posting, actually multiple postings, given that has been the focus of my work since the early 1980’s.
In the meantime, please try your version of the policy audit toolkit described above. And then act on your findings. Be prepared to have your notions of equity and social justice challenged when you remember just who these transfer students are when compared to first-year, first-time, full-time students.
I was not a transfer student and I’m glad I wasn’t. In my case, this was the luck of the draw as the adopted person I am. I was a second-generation college student, fully supported by affluent parents. If I had been a transfer student, I might not be where I am today given the biases then, let alone now, in our higher education system. But it doesn’t have to be this way.