Making Transfer a Reality: Responsibilities at the Two-Year and Four-Year LevelL. Joy Gates Black | Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Student Success, Tarrant County College
Degree attainment is critical to the health of the economy, especially as the labor market shifts more and more towards higher skill and knowledge requirements. The skills gap is not going to close itself and college and university leaders are beginning to recognize the importance of taking a leading role in supporting greater access, retention and completion. In this context, transfer from two-year to four-year institutions is more important now than ever before, but the postsecondary system is still largely not set up to support students who take this path. In this interview, Joy Gates Black reflects on the importance of transfer and shares her thoughts on how college and university leaders can collaborate more closely to make this pathway a reality for students.
The EvoLLLution (Evo): Why is it so important for community colleges to focus on facilitating transfer?
L. Joy Gates Black (JGB): University transfer for students at Tarrant County College (TCC) is an integral part of our mission. It is an important way by which we implement our mission to provide affordable and open access to quality teaching and learning.
TCC, like the rest of the nation’s community colleges, serves as the gateway to higher education. Our “open door” admissions policy and lower tuition offer the opportunity for upward mobility for students from all walks of life. In particular, community colleges enroll a greater proportion, compared to four-year institutions, of African American, Hispanic and first-generation students as well as students from the lowest income level and single parent families.
Likewise, students earning the appropriate certificates and degrees is important in order to have a strong economy for our country, state, and community. Experts predict that the United States must produce nearly 20 percent more bachelor’s degree holders—over and beyond current production levels—in order to meet our nation’s needs for an educated workforce. In response, Texas has created the 60x30TX plan that seeks to have 60 percent of Texans, ages 25 to 34, earn a certificate or degree by the year 2030. TCC is working closely with its university partners to support the state’s efforts to maintain its global competitiveness as more students are prepared to enter today’s workforce.
Finally, TCC, like community colleges across the country, now has a greater visibility among policy makers and elected officials as a vital resource in closing this workforce gap. They have recognized our ability to serve and prepare a greater number of students at a lower cost. As states and the federal government feel the pressure of dwindling funds, community colleges are being called upon to confront the challenges of college affordability and preparing more students for the attainment of a bachelor’s degree.
Evo: How does offering clear transfer pathways to four-year institutions impact the experience for community college students?
JBG: Articulation agreements are the foundation for building clear transfer pathways for students. These intentional commitments state what each institution will do individually and collectively to ensure transfer students are successful. TCC and its more than 50 university partner institutions share these common commitments:
- Collaborative work among faculty of both institutions to align, assess and revise curriculum as needed
- Counselors who frequently meet to resolve challenges experienced by transfer students
- Campus visits by university representatives to recruit and assist transfer students
- Tuition assistance through scholarships, financial aid and reduced tuition for select majors
- Use of transfer maps that show course sequences, pre-requisites, and the associated majors and careers with earnings
TCC further connects students to their chosen universities by: operating Transfer Centers at its campuses to help students plan for transfer; ensuring rigorous instruction that prepares students for upper-level course work; planning extracurricular activities related to transfer; and requiring first-time-in-college students to have an established plan of study during their first term at the college.
The goal of any successful transfer process is to admit academically prepared students who are ready to begin their chosen major at a four-year institution. According to recent research conducted by the American Association for Community Colleges, community college enrollment has been fueled largely by traditional-age students, ages 18 to 24. Traditional-age students attending full-time are far more likely to have transfer and bachelor’s degrees as goals. Further, national studies consistently show students who enter higher education through community colleges are much more likely to outperform the native student. These students represent a good investment for universities and demonstrate good stewardship to the public.
Evo: Given today’s outcomes focus—where metrics like graduation rates come under close scrutiny—how valuable is it for community colleges to focus on transfer over associate’s degree completion?
JBG: Focusing on successful student transfer and associate degree completion are equal facets of the community college mission. Texas, along with other leading states, offers incentive funding to community colleges through its Success Points model. These measures address student progression and completion. The state also maintains an equal focus on increasing successful community college transfer.
The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) regularly reports on the mobility of students as required by its 2016-17 appropriation. The most recent information shows while there are complex challenges at work, there is evidence of an overall growth in numbers of first-time undergraduates and transfer students. Texas public universities are successfully recruiting on high school and community college campuses.
Community colleges across the country have developed innovative partnerships using the same success measures of transfer and completion. As an example, Colorado’s Front Range Community College (FRCC)—in partnership with the Colorado School of Mines—established a 1+3 transfer program in engineering through that allows FRCC students to transfer to Mines after their first year to complete their bachelor’s degree. The partnering institutions are now developing a “reverse transfer” program through which FRCC students can retroactively earn an associate degree after they transfer to Mines.
TCC and the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) recently signed an innovative and collaborative partnership called “The Early Transfer Identification Program” (ETIP) to identify potential transfer students early in their academic career. Prospective transfer students enrolled in an associate degree plan will be pre-admitted to UTA. They will then be eligible for the guaranteed tuition plan, which ensures that tuition at UTA will remain at a constant rate for the four years from their start at TCC. A “reverse articulation” agreement will ensure that appropriate UTA course credits count toward a TCC associate degree.
These two models offer further evidence that successful student transfer and completion are both vital components of the work of community colleges.
Evo: Looking long-term, how do you expect transfer to be prioritized as an outcome for institutions in 10 to 15 years?
JBG: Looking 10 to 15 years into the future had been the norm for higher education leaders. However, given the impact of rapid changes in technology, demographics, the economy and other societal factors, swift and calculated responses are now the rule. These dynamics are increasingly and quickly bringing community colleges and universities into a new type of innovative partnership that requires greater levels of collaboration and trust.
The most recent cycle of funding for higher education in Texas requires colleges and universities to focus on successful student transfers. The State’s plan 60x30TX that seeks to have 60 percent of Texans, ages 25 to 34, possessing a certificate or degree by the year 2030, adds an extra measure of importance and urgency to the successful transfer of students. Transfer rates are now an established accountability measure for higher education in Texas. One result will be an increase in the type and number of regional and state transfer initiatives.
Student transfer is already a financial priority for community colleges and universities.
A recent study by The Aspen Institute and Columbia University reports, “As cost pressures drive recent high school graduates to community colleges rather than directly to four-year colleges, four-year colleges will increasingly rely on transfer as a means to enroll students from their traditional college-age markets and to meet their diversity goals.”
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 The Transfer Playbook: Essential Practices for Two- and Four-Year Colleges, The Aspen Institute and the Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University, 2016