With the recent focus on the importance of transfer students, we count ourselves lucky to have a transfer student enrollment expert in our midst. Scott Booth, our senior director of Transfer Services, brings frontline experience on these issues from enrollment and marketing leadership roles at Franklin University in Columbus, Ohio, where he collaborated with Franklin’s 230-member Community College Alliance on innovative transfer programs.
Read our full conversation with Scott below about the importance and timeliness of transfer student recruitment, where he provides advice for enrollment leaders about how to reduce persistent gaps in first-time, full-time enrollment.
Q: We’re hearing more and more about the importance of transfer student enrollment. Why?
Scott Booth: Too many four-year institutions prioritize strategies to gain first-year students, even as that pool is plateauing. As a result, the stagnation in high school graduates is really starting to hit close to campus, and this forces leadership to rethink how the transfer segment might ease enrollment and tuition revenue challenges.
Enrollment managers hear an urgent call-to-action to cultivate new segments of enrollment. Support from executive-level leadership is essential because this kind of change must be central to the campus culture.
At Franklin, the president decreed that every part of the educational experience had to align with the needs of the transfer student, from first contact through graduation. Every conversation regarding new academic programs, course design, systems, and student-facing strategies started with, “How will this affect our transfer students?”
Q: The cultural aspect makes sense, but isn’t transfer-friendliness really about setting up articulation agreements that require faculty engagement?
SB: There is no denying that articulation agreements are a prudent part of an overall transfer strategy, as they directly affect transfer students’ decision-making processes. But there is more to it.
I often hear enrollment managers say, “My programs are not optimized for transfer yet” or “I can’t get faculty to the altar,” so they just avoid the segment altogether. This exacerbates enrollment and tuition revenue challenges. There are critical steps that managers can take to lay the right foundation for transfer-friendliness.
Q: What are these steps for creating a transfer-friendly campus?
SB: I’m a big believer in building strong local community colleges partnerships. Knowing who’s in your backyard is fundamental: You need to collaboratively understand and address what two-year students want and expect in a seamless transfer experience to your four-year institution.
Successful transfer institutions with well-established partnerships ultimately have greater access to influencers and prospective students. This access can yield key data engagement strategies and co-marketing opportunities. Collaboration with two-year institutions can lead to a more effective and streamlined admission experience for prospective transfer students.
At Franklin University, top-down support for two-year partnerships is standard. Members of the Community College Alliance could expect presidential and senior staff to strongly support shared goal-setting and collaborative programs. Partnerships were impactful. They gave rise to a range of initiatives from reverse-transfer programs to campus co-locations.
Q: Those suggestions sound like a lot of work for enrollment managers. In your experience, is that the case?
SB: There is a lot of heavy lifting for transfer programs early on, but it’s worthwhile. There are literally millions of community college students each year that intend to transfer but don’t because of a variety of unintended barriers at four-year institutions. Four-year schools need to understand transfer students’ pain points and ease them early in the process.
Four-year schools also need to take to heart the employment and program research studies produced by their local community colleges. These studies vet the demand for particular curricula and can enable enrollment managers to build transfer program momentum, gaining institutional support for broader, longer-term transfer initiatives.
Q: How does an increased focus on transfer enrollment make financial sense? Why wouldn’t we just put all our funds in undergraduate recruitment?
SB: The first-time, full-time student market is drying up. Schools that target a waning population are going to experience diminishing returns on their investments.
On the other hand, transfer student enrollment benefits both missions and margins. Transfer return on investment is strong—they pay more on average, retain and graduate at higher rates, and are cheaper to recruit.
At Franklin, we hired community college regional managers to recruit and advise transfer students. The idea was to be as close to the transfer student as possible to ensure their needs were met early in the selection and decision process. We offset the cost of these resources by reducing the marketing dollars previously budgeted to this segment, creating a higher ROI.
Transfer student enrollment also helps to fulfill many colleges’ missions to be inclusive and diverse. The transfer market is a prime target for institutions that are looking to foster racial and ethnic diversity and provide greater opportunities for student access.
The biggest thing to remember is that transfer-friendliness is within reach. I encourage you to prioritize transfer enrollment and identify specific strategies to align your university’s goals with those of the students you seek.