This webinar presentation, part of the 2021-20 Alliance and Forum annual meeting virtual series, took place April 9, 2021. The session was moderated by Eric Leshinskie, Interim Provost at Maricopa Community Colleges and featured Aisha Lowe, Vice Chancellor of Educational Services, California Community Colleges; Michelle Marks, Chancellor, University of Colorado Denver; and Doug Shapiro, Executive Director, National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. The panelists focused on strategies that all institutions can implement to improve the transfer process between community colleges and four-year institutions.
Equity Gaps Persist. Doug Shapiro presented the data compiled by NSC over the past year on enrollment and transfer rates, which are reported in NSC’s latest report, COVID-19: Transfer, Mobility and Progress, First Look Spring 2021. The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic defied expectations, with a slight decrease in enrollment among four-year institutions but a huge drop at community colleges. Shapiro noted that one of the most troubling effects of the pandemic is that it exposed and exacerbated the equity gaps that have always existed throughout our higher education system. The data reflect a view of transfer as students in distress. More disadvantaged students fell further behind. The existing gaps in equity and diversity in access to a bachelor’s degree, particularly for community college students, has grown wider during the pandemic.
Redesign higher education with transfer in mind. Michelle Marks of University of Colorado Denver (UCD) echoed this development: the impact of the pandemic on historically disadvantaged students is very real. Students have dropped out or stopped out primarily due to health or financial concerns – even before the pandemic college was becoming unaffordable for many students. Half of the students at UCD are transfers, aiming for that pathway to a bachelor’s degree. But the programs and efforts to streamline transfer have not been enough. As a member of the ACE task force on transfer, Marks shared the task force’s recommendations for improving transfer: prioritize credit for higher learning; improve transcript evaluation policies; utilize technology for efficiency and consistency; communicate clearly what credits will transfer and toward which degree pathway; assure quality advising; and partner with both sending and receiving institutions. Most importantly, embed transfer into the culture of higher education. Approach transfer from the perspective of the student. Create a system that values the range of experiences that students bring, from multiple institutions. Higher education institutions demonstrated adaptability when the pandemic struck. Marks urged institutions to use that innovation and strength in ways that will support all student educational journeys.
Innovation at the System Level. Aisha Lowe of the California Community Colleges (CCC) described the efforts underway to improve transfer in the vast CCC system of 2.1 million students attending 116 colleges. Rather than an initiative, guided pathways is the framework for aligning resources and programs to put students first. In place for four years, the framework operates under a set of vision goals and commitments. The system is preparing to shift to a student-centered funding formula, which will be dependent on the outcomes that an institution is achieving. In addition, the system has a number of transfer partners – state, regional and online – with transfer pathways articulated for each partner. Lowe reported that significant progress has been made in the number of students that earn AA degrees and transfer. But she noted that students still had to manage a complex system. More work is needed to streamline the hand-off to the system’s four-year partners.
Lowe also noted that students are not consulted enough on their experiences, goals and problems. Shapiro and Marks both agreed whole-heartedly. Their advice: listen to students. Reach out to them proactively with questions as well as information, advice and guidance. Lowe added that an ideological mind-shift is needed, particularly for state systems, one in which all institutions see all students as our students. The lines of demarcation between different institutions can be erased so that innovative policies can be implemented for all students.
The one-hour webinar is available on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QaAPy9xAjss