Field Notes - Barriers & Blunders in Transfer: Part 2

August 23, 2021
  • Professional Development and Contributions to the Field
  • Re-Envisioning Transfer
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"Field Notes" is a regular Connect column covering practical and philosophical issues facing admissions and registrar professionals. Various AACRAO members author the columns. If you have an idea for a column and would like to contribute, please send an email to the editor at connect@aacrao.org.

By Thomas J. Grites, Assistant Provost (Ret), Stockton University

Transfer Transitions – Concepts and Applications for Success

In Part 1 of this 2-part sequence, I identified many of the obstacles transfer students face in the transfer process. In Part 2, I hope to provide several considerations that institutions might undertake to reduce these obstacles that result in too many non-completers. They are described in two broad categories: concepts that enable institutional success and applications of policies, practices, procedures, and programs that potentially enhance student success.

Concepts

  1. Transfer Efficacy – this term has only recently been introduced in the literature about transfer students. It refers to “the way in which students’ develop self-efficacy beliefs around their ability to transfer and navigate the transfer process” (Hayes, 2019). However, I believe it is a useful term and one that suggests the importance of understanding the transfer process in the total institutional contexts – both the receiving AND the sending institutions. The concept also sets the foundation upon which successful applications of transitional efforts should be based. 

  1. Culture of Transfer – knowing the transfer student contingent on the campus is essential. Still, to ensure that a successful transition effort is in place, all elements of the campus environment must be in sync to contribute to that effort. Therefore, a transfer culture is important to be developed and recognized by the students to be effective. For this culture to reach its fullest potential, the historical higher education silos – Academic Affairs and Student Affairs – must collaborate across each other’s boundaries. Other units that might operate outside these two primary ones, e.g., Financial Aid, Bursar, Registrar, Career Services, and Enrollment Management, are also critical to develop transfer culture. Advocacy for transfer students should be evident from all units and include commitments from top-level leadership, faculty, and Student Affairs staff.

    Mutual planning, sharing, and executing transitional efforts and programs should result in these students receiving “their diplomas with no wasted time or money behind them, feeling like they were right where they belonged” (Adams, et al., 2020).

  1. Thriving – This is a term that has had traction re: college students for a while. Schreiner* et al.’s (2020) Thriving in Transitions has an appropriate update of its relevance for transfer students in Chapter 7 by Mcintosh & Nelson. Thriving implies more than attending classes, joining clubs and organizations, and even graduating. Thriving results in developing a sense of belonging through regular interactions with faculty and experiencing new and different social relationships along the way. Most importantly, Mcintosh and Nelson concluded that transfer students value institutional integrity, i.e., how well their lived experiences align with their expectations, above all other characteristics they researched. 

Applications

The abovementioned concepts reflect institutional characteristics and efforts that facilitate institutional success (retention, persistence, completion). However, those that truly promote student success (developing relationships, assessing values and strengths, adapting to a new environment, meeting specific goals) are ones that students experience directly, and that fulfill the institutional integrity they value and mitigate the magnitude of barriers, blunders, and differences I described in Part 1. The following examples provide efforts that could/should be explored and discussed for potential adaptation, either explicitly or as a variation. I always prefer the “How can we make this work for us? Versus the “We can’t do this” approach.

  • Pre-Application – first impressions do matter: is there a separate transfer student website? Is it appealing and fully informative? Do visits to your campus include a tour, especially for transfer student services?

  • Application process – what is the time frame for this activity? How quickly do students receive information re: their transfer credits, i.e., acceptability and applicability?

  • Admission – are there conditions accompanying acceptance, e.g., only with official transcripts, last term grades, proof of degree, etc.? Are there any green lights (high GPA already established, low-demand major indicated) or red flags (inordinate number of repeated/withdrawn courses, no coursework in the intended major, expectations that the institution cannot meet, e. g., earn a preferred degree with only evening or only online classes)? These examples do not suggest a decision to admit or not, but they suggest that conversations occur to support the abovementioned concepts.

  • Acceptance – everyone likes to receive good news, in any format, so how inviting is the notification of this decision, especially compared to what new first-time-in-college (FTIC) students receive? Is it only on paper? How about a video by a current student who attended the same previous institution? Are the conditions of acceptance clearly described, e. g., tuition deposit dates, orientation and registration protocols, academic calendar, etc.? 

  • Official in-person transition – although these might now be virtual, this will likely be an Orientation and/or Registration program. Is this a “Get ’em in and get ‘em out” effort, i.e., only registration for classes? Note: we found that transfer students preferred a complete program, akin (but not the same) to what FTIC students received.

  • Course options/availability – are the course scheduling priorities clear, specifically where transfer students are in that sequence? Is the rationale for this sequence explained? What are the upsides to their status? Why do I have to repeat that course? Are ‘transfer seminars” offered or required? Note: I am a strong advocate for these.

  • The “high touch” approach – new transfer students need to see, meet, know as many individuals and resources as possible, as soon as possible, in their new experience. For example, faculty with whom they will have a course, their academic advisor, and staff members from counseling, financial aid, career services, and the Registrar’s offices should become familiar faces to every new transfer student. 

Final Thoughts

There are (at least) two other important institutional efforts that should be considered to improve transfer students' transition to their new environment – data and policy reviews.

Certain data elements for transfer students are required for some data sources, including IPEDS, the National Student Clearinghouse, accreditors, State agencies, grantors, etc., but most are simply demographic. However, much of the data required for FTIC students are not always required – or even requested – for transfers. So why not gather and report it anyway to inform the institutional community, legislators, news media, and others? These data can certainly contribute to all three of the concepts described above. For example, isn’t the retention, persistence, and completion of transfer students just as important to the institution as FTIC students? I think so.

The second area that seems to occur mostly only when a mandate or critical enrollment management arises is a review of policies that impact transfer students should occur regularly (3-5 years), rather than only when a crisis occurs. Of course, there needs to be relevant data to substantiate the issue and demonstrate that a change is needed and appropriate. 

The transfer journey is not easy, but it can be made more tolerant, helpful, engaging, and personal in a culture of transfer that encourages transfer students to thrive.

Interested in transfer? Visit our Re-Envisioning Transfer page to learn about our work and see upcoming opportunities to join the transfer conversation.

*Schreiner, L. A., Louis, M. C., & Nelson, D. D. (Eds.). Thriving in transitions: A research-based approach to college student success (2nd ed.). University of South Carolina, National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience & Students in Transition.