The national drumbeat for colleges and universities to do more for transfer students grew louder over the past few weeks.
The Government Accountability Office reported that students lose nearly half of their college credits when transferring from one school to another. And, concurrently, the Inside Higher Ed | Gallup 2017 Survey of College and University Admissions Directors found that growing numbers of admissions directors intend to increase their recruitment of transfers and students older than 24.
Taken together, these reports signal a fundamental problem for enrollment leaders: the loss of transfer students’ credit hours confounds efforts to recruit and graduate this increasingly desirable student population.
It’s complicated and difficult, but change is possible: Your institution can mitigate the loss of transfer credit hours to grow transfer student enrollment.
To gain a frontline perspective on this challenge, I recently talked with Dr. Christopher Washington, Executive Vice President and Provost at Franklin University, and Ms. Stephanie Dennis, Assistant Director of Operations at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) to learn their strategies to improve articulation, faculty engagement, and course equivalencies—the “up at night” issues of most enrollment leaders who aim to help students with credit loss.
How a provost promotes partnership
Dr. Washington has played a key role in building Franklin University’s 230-member Community College Alliance—an articulation program that provides students with the opportunity to earn their bachelor’s degree via transfer-friendly pathways while remaining in their communities.
I asked Dr. Washington about Franklin’s articulation philosophy. He explained that Franklin believes that quality education spans a diverse array of institutions and that it is disruptive for students to be required to repeat courses when they switch between them.
To minimize credit loss, Dr. Washington strongly encourages Franklin’s faculty to engage and collaborate with two-year college faculty, insisting that this partnership creates faculty respect for the teaching and learning on the two-year campus. Growing bonds between the faculties at Franklin and the two-year colleges in the alliance have prompted co-developed academic programs and a host of transfer-friendly initiatives that allow students to transfer more credit, saving them time and money.
How IUPUI ensures course equivalency accuracy and access
I recently spoke with Ms. Dennis after my presentation at an AACRAO Technology & Transfer Conference about her team’s intensive work to mitigate transfer credit loss.
Ms. Dennis’s team makes admissions decisions and provides transfer credit reviews for admitted students. During a recent meeting, they discovered 2,000 courses that potentially had not been not added to the transfer evaluation system supporting Ivy Tech Community College, a nearby two-year partner with 19,000 students.
Rigorous data analyses identified courses taken in the last three years with 100+ students, roughly 20% of the courses met this requirement. The team immediately found that about a dozen nursing courses and great many other lower-level classes had had no course equivalencies. To date, Ms. Dennis’s team has corrected ~150 courses with new courses or content and continues to review and correct gaps.
Ms. Dennis stated that the project was an “eye opener” about IUPUI student service. And while the enrollment impact has not yet been analyzed, she believes that collaboration has improved, articulation has accelerated, and all have gained a greater appreciation for the quality of their data.
Four next steps for schools looking to increase transfer enrollment
Drawing on the wisdom of these esteemed colleagues and the successes at their institutions, I recommend four next steps:
- Initiate the study of credit loss among transfer students
- Validate data availability to identify efficient or inefficient pathways
- Establish regular, reliable processes for updating and improving program articulation
- Seek support from the president and provost to begin a transfer dialogue on campus and with local two-year colleges
Dr. Washington’s and Ms. Dennis’s insights on institutional commitment, focus, and collaboration are an important reminder that credit transfer can be a complicated, confusing, and costly obstacle for transfer students.
While the transfer student drumbeat continues to reverberate throughout the higher education landscape, I encourage you to take these steps to prevent credit loss—which is often more than a full-semester’s coursework—among transfer students. Full credit transfer, we must always remember, increases not only the likelihood that transfer students will enroll but also the longer-term promise that they will earn their four-year degrees.
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