Last year we invited you – our partner organizations, pioneer researchers and leaders on the ground – to join us on our blog during the final year of our three-year, multi-state, multi-organizational “Transport Processing” project. This project tested the hypothesis that meaningful and equitable improvements in transferred student outcomes require explicit and comprehensive attention to the areas of policy, practice, leadership, communication, and culture—and we learned a lot from deep work in three states (Minnesota, Texas, Virginia). When we launched the original blog, we sought to raise the bar for lessons across those disparate areas of advocacy work for transfer students, and in 2021 we published 49 blog posts from researchers, university and college practitioners, policy experts, students, and change-makers from higher education. Project partners define Transport Handling by acquiring a repository of tools and resources that we hope will be useful in transporting heroes.
As we look forward, we hold lessons learned and validated convictions about the true levers of expanded improvement in outcomes for students who experience learning and gain knowledge in a variety of settings and institutions on their way to their Bachelor’s degree and beyond. These lessons and beliefs fuel our curiosity and lead us to see the next phase of this blog that we call Beyond Transfer.
Of the many lessons learned, a few have risen to the top for us as we look forward to the work to be done the most.
- Update and clarify our language. The complexity of student transitions is in contrast to simple definitions. Most commonly, the transformation has been used to determine patterns of student progression from two to four years. But this definition of transfer is insufficient and outdated to define the experience of students attending multiple institutions, gaining knowledge in multiple places and/or supporting learning and earning on their way to valuable credentials. A broader view of student experience today across institution types is a necessary accompaniment to the traditional focus on transfer as a mechanism for baccalaureate-seeking community college students.
- Acknowledge our history to own the present. As we support the patterns of student progress today, it is important to acknowledge the historical roots of the two- and four-year post-secondary sectors in the United States. The exclusivity of the four-year sector – not expanding equitable access to it – and without enough external pressure to set new terms and incentives, traditional universities will remain focused on maintaining the status quo (even while risking their long-term health).
- Raising the implications for property rights. Despite decades of interest in transfer, there is still limited capacity in the field to explain why improving recognition learning is a lever of justice and what procedure it should follow. Leveling the playing field for today’s students, particularly Black, Hispanic, Indigenous, Asian, Pacific Islander, and American students, and students from low-income backgrounds, to include rural students, will require next-level attention to equity effects on student transitions. Within states, we still see little support beyond rhetoric about diversion as an equity issue. There is a clear need for more truth telling – and better use of existing data – to show more clearly what does not work for today’s students and to make it difficult for policy makers and practitioners to ignore or invalidate the equity imperative for efforts to improve learning recognition and seamless transmission. The credentials, who are often armed in discourse by pro- and anti-reform institutional actors, must become part of the transfer student success conversation. Not enough attention has been paid to accreditation as a tool to focus institutional attention on issues related to equality of opportunity and outcomes for today’s learners.
- It is not a policy or practice; It’s politics And Exercise. Efforts to build institutional capacity to reform practices at scale are moving too slowly in the absence of strong engagement with policy and advocacy. At the same time, changing/reforming legislation and policies that do not adequately meet the conditions for effective implementation leads to anemia or ignorance policy that is not up to the desired results. We must take comprehensive approaches to broad reform that include elements of policy and practice as basic foundations for change, such as ensuring that all transport legislation is applied to both two- and four-year public institutions in the country, and this planned consideration of quality of implementation has been made into policy design from the outset.
- Bring incentives. Every state has some sort of transfer policy on the books; Each state also has dismal and highly unfair outcomes for student transfers, indicating the inadequacy of current policies to change institutional practices and create conditions for colleges and universities to truly prioritize student interests. Explicit attention to the real incentives and drivers of institutional focus should be on transformative advocacy work, because it is clear that institutions struggle hard with the kind of collaboration required to meaningfully improve the student experience. Incentives should also be thought more creatively. For example, partnerships that bring in charitable dollars as funds matching government credits to advance cross-party post-secondary achievement goals can build appetite and reduce risk for policymakers to lead, and can motivate system and institutional leaders to set measurable goals to improve outcomes in order to convey Students who attend multiple institutions.
- connect the dots; Lens expansion. The effectiveness of transfer policy is influenced by policies in other areas of the students’ learning journey, and reformers who focus on student success need to embrace a broader view of available levers. For example, the way placement and processing are organized in community colleges will convey students’ chances of success from day one. Likewise, administrative reservation policies and a large number of academic policies not specifically related to student transfers disproportionately affect learners who accumulate knowledge in a variety of settings on their way to credentials. Perhaps most complex, competing definitions of shared governance and academic freedom permeate under the surface in every major equity-based reform effort, including the success of transfer students. Now is the time to build upon the necessary but difficult conversations about what it means to align policy and institutional practices with a commitment to equality of opportunity and outcomes for today’s students, rather than walking away from it. Making new connections visible, developing old discourse, and broadening the conversation to include often overlooked or underappreciated levers of change are at the top of our concerns as we move forward in 2022.
“Post-Transfer” will develop the conversation
Building on the lessons above, Beyond Transfer will advance the conversation around learning recognition and pathways to credentials by highlighting groundbreaking research, new directions in practice-based work, next-level policy and advocacy efforts that mobilize mind-set influencers equitable. We will also research “best in breed” work on technology and data infrastructure around learner agency and credit mobility.
We invite you to share your ideas. We are particularly interested in advancing quality work focused on changing conditions, incentives, and precedents for lasting change on behalf of better, more equitable outcomes for today’s learners. Join us by sharing your stories of change.
To contact us, please send an email [email protected].