Putting Technology to Work for Transfer StudentsSusan Aldridge | President of Drexel University Online, Drexel University
With more than 12 million students now enrolled in community college programs across the country, the race is on to provide seamless transfer pathways from an associate’s degree to a bachelor’s degree. And in creating these pathways, four-year institutions are quickly coming around to the idea that digital technology is an essential component.
The Online Transfer Advantage
The majority of community college students are working adults and more than a third are first-generation college-goers, who begin their academic journeys at two-year schools because of their proximity and flexible scheduling, lower tuition and career-focused programs. Online transfer options afford the same convenient access to market-relevant, four-year degree programs, at less overall cost and without ever leaving home; thereby expanding academic opportunities, while preventing local “brain drain” of educated professionals.
What’s more, in making higher education even more accessible and affordable, the community college sector has widely embraced distance learning, with a reported 92 percent of these institutions now offering at least one fully online degree program. Thus, as community college students across all demographics become increasingly familiar with online education, they view it as an ever-more viable transfer route to a four-year degree.
So what are some of the innovative ways online education leaders at four-year institutions can help build stronger transfer pipelines?
Concurrent Enrollment Models
In removing some of the more egregious barriers for transfer students, a growing number of online higher education providers are developing institutional partnerships with two-year colleges around pioneering transfer pathway models, such as concurrent enrollment programs. In doing so, they are harnessing the power of technology to promote high-quality connected learning and reduce time to degree, which, in turn, keeps students engaged and tuition costs down. Drexel University’s College of Nursing and Health Professions will partner with community colleges to launch an online Associate to Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (ADN to BSN). Under this model, nursing students who are just beginning a two-year degree in their home communities may start working concurrently toward an online bachelor of science in nursing at Drexel. After earning their associate’s degree and passing the National Council Licensure Examination, they may then complete their remaining BSN course work fully online at Drexel, typically within two terms. California’s Coastline Community College created a similar three-year associate’s to bachelor’s degree model, in partnership with a group of four-year institutions that offer online degree programs. After completing 30 credit hours at the community college during year one, students may then apply for dual enrollment in an online bachelor’s program, which allows them to concurrently earn subsequent credit hours at both institutions during year two. By the third and final year, students round out their bachelor’s degree requirements entirely online.
Shared Student Portals
Research shows that community college transfer students often need targeted support to successfully make the transfer from a two- to a four-year institution. That said, the virtual environment also offers a unique opportunity to encourage joint efforts around seamless service support, as these students move through the pipeline and on to the degree completion finish line.
By joining forces, community colleges and their four-year institutional partners can create and share one-stop, high-touch online portals, which provide prospective transfer students with easy and customized access to ongoing service support. For starters, these portals can serve as a virtual doorway to such essential academic resources as advising, writing assistance, tutoring, and peer mentoring. They can also become a streamlined self-service option for everything from tuition payment and financial aid packaging, to course registration and career assistance.
Likewise, shared cyber portals reduce the inordinate amount of time these students often spend submitting requisite forms and accessing necessary records in their quest to successfully make the transition from one school to another.
Automated Transfer Credit Evaluation
It goes without saying that transfer credit policies and course equivalencies often vary greatly from one institution to the next. And in the absence of formal pathway agreements between two- and four-year schools, transfer students frequently spend far too much precious time and money repeating coursework to meet four-year degree requirements.
On top of that, veterans and military service members typically amass credits from a variety of academic sources in more than a few locations—community colleges, military training schools, and other four-year universities—which are expensive and time-consuming to collect and evaluate.
So to make the transition as seamless and cost-effective as possible, a few ingenious universities have automated their credit evaluation and degree audit process–an investment that comes with big returns for students, faculty, and staff, alike. In fact, automated systems can drastically reduce the time it takes to process degree audits and credit transfer requests–from weeks or months by hand to, on average, 48 hours–enabling schools to rapidly turn far more of them around at a reduced cost. Automated systems can also be designed to produce unofficial course credit evaluations for students to use in quickly mapping their two- to four-year degree trajectory, at any point along the academic journey.
The bottom line? By eliminating redundancy and promoting accountability, students have a clear transfer pathway at all times, saving them untold dollars and countless hours remediating course credit deficiencies. And that means higher enrollment, persistence and graduation rates, as well as lower student loan debt–a real bonus for students and institutions.
Author Perspective: Administrator