Improving the Transfer Process for Students

Earlier this month, NACAC staff traveled to Atlanta to participate in the annual conference of the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students — an entity which strives to improve the lives of transfer students by supporting those who directly serve these students, as well as those who create transfer policy and conduct transfer-related research.

To highlight just one of the insightful discussions, this post will focus on a panel where conference attendees heard from the latest recipients of the organization’s Bonita C. Jacobs Transfer Champion Award. The award is given in recognition of an individual or individuals “who have demonstrated exceptional advocacy and leadership in the development and implementation of transfer-focused activities (e.g., programs, policies, research) which have made a significant contribution to the improvement of transfer student access, persistence, and success.”

The 2014-2015 Awardees shared many insights in terms of best practices in working with transfer students based upon their experiences in the field. To give a sample of some of this rich discussion, below are brief highlights from responses to a couple of questions exploring transfer issues:

Give us your idea about what advice you would give to improve transfer for community colleges preparing students for transfer?

  • Build relationships between feeder and receiving institutions.
  • Help transfer students be able to self-advise by teaching them how to navigate the tools and technology that are available to them, to help make decisions going forward.
  • From a student perspective— get transcripts to receiving institutions quicker.

What advice would you give to baccalaureate institutions receiving transfer students?

  • Offer some kind of sustained orientation effort that helps transfer students make the transition (and gives students an instant peer group).
  • Advise students to ask “How many courses do I need to complete my degree at your institution?” instead of asking, “How many credits will you give me for the courses I’ve already taken?”
  • Identify the top feeder schools of your transfer students. Look at the history and trends overtime to have a better understanding of the source of your transfer students and the kind of culture and institutional backgrounds from which these students come from.
  • Make sure advisors have access to student transcripts as soon as possible.
  • Visit NACAC’s website to browse more best practices in guiding transfer students through transition and check back on the blog for upcoming additional highlights from this discussion.

What advice would you give to students who are transferring?

  • I think one of the lies that transfer students tell themselves is, “I’ve got time,” “I can go explore.” And really the truth of it is, students should start planning their transfer the first semester at community college.
  • Plan. Review the college’s website and see what they say about transfer students, about the transfer process, about the curriculum, etc. Visit the campus. Get as much information about the new institution as possible.
  • To get involved and to get involved quickly. Find ways to take ownership of their experience and take advantage of the resources and opportunities that are there.

What’s the biggest mistake you see- either a college preparing students for transfer or an institution that accepts transfer students- in terms of facilitating student transfer?

  • Ignoring transfer students or viewing them as “second class citizens” (because they aren’t counted in the graduation rate metrics and other reasons).
  • Making assumptions- whether it’s the students making them when they come in (the ‘been there, done that’ concept) or the institutions making assumptions about transfer students.
  • Not reviewing their policies, programs, and procedures.
  • Losing sense of what it means to be student-centered. Institutions need to look beyond assumptions and stereotypes that often affect how we understand where students are and how we treat them, accordingly. I think too often I see practitioners and institutional leaders using false assumptions to drive their practice and policies.
  • Leaving students out of the solution. Some of the best programs that I’ve seen are efforts where students have a voice and have some say in what these programs are, what they should be, and how they could respond to specific problems or challenges. And to the same point, I think empowering faculty and staff to have a role in the decision making process is also very important.
  • Not getting to student’s soon enough and not getting students connected to the information when they’re most likely to hear it.

The 2014-2015 Awardees of the NISTS’ Bonita C. Jacobs Transfer Champion Award are:

  • Thomas J. Grites, assistant provost at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.
  • Rebecca McKay, director of technology at AZTransfer, Arizona’s transfer articulation system.
  • Robert T. Teranishi, professor of social science and comparative education/co-director of the Institute for Immigration, Globalization, and Education, UCLA.

Heather Durosko is a policy and research strategic initiatives analyst at NACAC. She can be reached at

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