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Establishing a Transfer Culture: Facilitating Movement from Two- to Four-Year Higher Ed

—Co-written with Laura Latimer | Assistant Vice President of Community Engagement Services, College of Southern Nevada

The EvoLLLution | Establishing a Transfer Culture: Facilitating Movement from Two- to Four-Year Higher Ed
By partnering with four-year institutions, it’s possible for community colleges to create a clear transfer pathway for students that helps to overcome many of the common obstacles these learners face in transition.

Probably the most frequent obstacle students from community colleges experience when transferring to a four-year institution is the lack of course articulation to a four-year institution, particularly the transferability of technical course credit and unfulfilled math requirements. There are several reasons for this—from limited program alignments to varying prerequisites for courses at the four-year institution.

There are a number of other challenges commonly faced by community college students who want to transfer, including:

  • A lack of centralized information about academic requirements for a given major;
  • Overall difficulty scheduling academic advising to discuss admissions and program requirements prior to applying or being accepted;
  • Trouble navigating a new student information system;
  • Unclear institutional communications;
  • The length of time the admission application process may take;
  • An unfamiliar campus climate that could potentially marginalize students in terms of age, race, socioeconomic status, or previous educational experience;
  • Problems with financial resources and the need to perhaps work more to afford higher tuition;
  • Taking courses in their major at a higher level than those to which they are accustomed;
  • A lack of awareness about support services at the new institution.

Lost credits in the transfer process significantly impacts a student’s ability to transfer successfully, remain on track, graduate on time, and minimize costs at the four-year school. Similar to developing clear course articulations, the two-year sending institution and four-year receiving school have to commit to student success by building positive expectations as a result of the transfer process, providing sufficient academic, social and financial support both pre- and post-transfer, and promoting extracurricular engagement. After all, the degree of student interaction with peer groups and faculty at the university—regardless of full- or part-time status, or working schedule on- or off-campus—will prove vital to the persistence of the transfer student.

How We Are Helping Students Overcome Transfer Obstacles

The College of Southern Nevada (CSN) and the University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV) have entered into formalized arrangements to ensure course transferability in addition to committing to student success, building positive expectations as a result of a seamless transfer process, providing sufficient academic, social and financial guidance, and promoting extracurricular engagement through varied opportunities for campus involvement at the university.

More recently, through the Guaranteed Transfer Program, UNLV applicants initially turned down are guaranteed later admission to the institution if they complete a transferable degree at CSN and sign an agreement that delineates the courses and grades they must earn for university admission upon graduating from the community college. In addition, since 2013, CSN has housed two full-time UNLV transition advisors responsible for simplifying the transfer process, advising and providing admission and financial aid services to CSN students prior to the completion of their transferable degrees.

As a result of the articulation agreement, UNLV advisors and admission staff do not have to face judging a student’s preparation based on a course-by-course evaluation. Furthermore, through their sustained presence at CSN, the UNLV Advisors provide community college students with a road map for transfer, while also introducing them to the culture of the four-year university. The transition advisors collaborate with CSN staff to coordinate resources and activities for the dissemination of timely policy and curriculum information without jeopardizing the students’ timely completion of an associate degree.

Through delivering a smoother transfer experience—beginning with seamless degree articulations, coordination of advising, admission, financial aid, and orientation services—CSN and UNLV have partnered to increase baccalaureate degree attainment in Southern Nevada. Both institutions have discovered that the successful transfer and transition of their students depends on their strong collaboration.

Making the Partnership a Reality

There were a few significant hurdles we had to overcome in setting up the CSN-UNLV partnership. For example, we had to develop an SIS interface between CSN and UNLV to facilitate the alignment of admission business processes, identification and academic tracking of program participants, synchronization of institutional communications to students, and coordination of electronic transcript evaluation requests.

Additionally, both institutions are currently trying to determine the process by which Guaranteed Transfer Program students enrolled at CSN will participate in selected UNLV campus activities for a minimal fee.

Also trying has been conveying to CSN students who want to transfer after earning between 15 to 30 credits that they are better off waiting until they earn their associate degree before transferring to UNLV to protect articulation agreements. When it comes down to it, studies show that students who transfer with a large number of credits are more likely to be successful at the university level. Similarly, students who have not completed the lower-division preparation requirements at CSN—particularly in math—find it more difficult to make the transition to UNLV. This is especially the case when students pursue majors in the natural and physical sciences, which require several lower-division classes in mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology.

The Benefits of the Transfer Partnership

In the short term, CSN hopes that the transfer partnership with UNLV becomes increasingly simple for students who wish to earn a bachelor’s degree. As academic programs change, it is important to align CSN and UNLV courses to ensure transparent credit-transfer policies that provide students with specific guidelines about which courses will and will not transfer.

As a two-year college, we owe it to CSN students to ensure that their hard work is going to pay off and that they can generally succeed at the university at the same (or even higher!) rates than students transferring from other four-year institutions.

Long-term, CSN hopes to continue strengthening a transfer-receptive culture within the state of Nevada that places community college transfer students at the core of four-year institutional missions and strategic enrollment plans. The long-term benefit to CSN students will be the increased recognition and appreciation of the pivotal role they play in tackling the state’s bachelor degree attainment challenges of the 21st century.

The strategic commitment by Nevada’s four-year schools to not only enroll but tend to the special needs of CSN and other community college students after they matriculate at their institutions will help ensure that our students graduate with their bachelor’s degrees rather than get lost to attrition.

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