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How “Transfer-in Ready” Is Your Institution? Proven Best Practices for Transfer-In Student Success

Four-year colleges and universities have been admitting transfer students for decades. Since transfer students enroll at different points in their academic career and have had various educational and life experiences, their needs also vary. As a result, it becomes difficult for colleges and universities to provide services that meet the needs of all transfer students. For example, many assume that transfer students are already experienced with college and therefore do not need support in getting acclimated to their new institution.

With a steady growth of articulation agreements and purposeful state-wide policies over the last thirty years, higher education institutions and systems offer many supports for these students. Yet despite having solid infrastructures in place, many faculty and staff do not know how transfer-in ready their four-year college or university really is. How easy is it for a prospective student to actually transfer in? And what resources are available for transfer students once they’ve joined their new institution?

Below, I share the best practices of colleges and universities that—because of their exemplary support structures and high graduation rates—have been recognized as “Exceptional Overachievers” by the Institute for Effectiveness in Higher Education (IEHE). I hope other colleges and universities can leverage these best practices to build or grow their own programs and services.

What Does It Mean to Be Transfer-in Ready?

To be transfer-in ready, of course, an institution must enroll transfer students. Since nearly every college and university already admits at least some transfer students (though certain institutions admit more than others), this criterion is not much of a differentiator.

Second, transfer-in ready institutions communicate that transfer students are welcome to attend, participate, and use campus programs and services. For example, transfer students should be purposefully invited to attend orientation and live on campus.

Third, transfer-in ready institutions demonstrate their capacity to actually graduate students who transferred-in at higher than expected rates.

Finally, transfer-in ready institutions explicitly signal that transfer students and their needs matter. This signaling often takes the form of describing programs in language that specifically targets these students (e.g., naming events “transfer orientation” and “transfer fair”); developing tools that intentionally empower transfer students’ decisions (e.g., online calculators that help students determine course credits that will transfer); and offering services at times when these students are most likely to be available (e.g., opening the registrar’s office during weekend and evening hours). These supports and resources signal to transfer students that they are welcomed and valued on campus.

Finding the Exceptional Overachievers in Supporting Transfer Students

While data such as graduation rates are good indicators of the success of an institution’s efforts to support transfer-in students, they don’t tell the full story. Likewise, simply having great support programs for transfer-in students doesn’t necessarily translate into student success. Rather, having an educational and social support ecosystem designed for transfer-in students creates a “transfer-in ready” institution and ultimately leads to student success.

To find institutions that have been Exceptional Overachievers in supporting transfer students, we started by examining data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) to identify institutions that were overachieving with their transfer-in completion rates. For our analysis, we identified “overachieving” as doing better than predicted based on a variety of institutional and student characteristic, accounting for the factors that make each college or university unique.

Once overachievers were identified based on the data, we turned to the institutions’ websites to learn more about their efforts. We collected evidence and analyzed programs using a rubric that identifies fourteen practices that help students apply and enroll at the institution, succeed and feel welcome on campus, and prepare for future career decisions (see figure 1).

Figure 1. Fourteen Supports for Increasing Transfer Student Success

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Of the eighteen institutions we identified as Exceptional Overachievers, five universities achieved an “all star” status by offering three or more of the supports:

  • Florida Atlantic University
  • Fort Hays State University
  • University of Central Florida
  • University of Delaware
  • University of South Florida

How Your Institution Can Be Transfer-in Ready

You may be wondering, What can I do with this information to help transfer-in students at my institution? We offer the following actions steps to start enhancing your existing transfer-in student efforts.

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  1. Know your numbers. Do you know your transfer-in student graduation rates? Institutions have been reporting this information to IPEDS for the last six years, with the data disaggregated by students’ status as full-time, part-time, Pell Grant recipients, and non–Pell Grant recipients. You can check out your institution’s IPEDS data and compare them with peer institutions through the federal CollegeNavigator website.
  2. Compare your offerings. Compare the transfer-in programs you offer to IEHE’s list of fourteen transfer-in supports. Which programs and services does your institution currently offer? Which could you develop with a low-to-moderate level of effort (such as organizations or clubs for transfer-in student)? Which supports are not currently available but should be included in your institution’s strategic planning efforts?
  3. Learn from others. Check out the websites of the Exceptional Overachievers to learn about the specific program or service that you are interested in enhancing. To make that process a bit simpler, our Exceptional Overachiever of Transfer-In Students Compendium provides links to program and service pages. We hope these institutions serve as catalysts for creating and enhancing programs that fit your students’ needs.
  4. Join forces. Even a cursory glance through the list of fourteen transfer-in supports makes it clear that transfer-in readiness doesn’t rest neatly within the purview of any single department or division. Transfer-in readiness is everyone’s responsibility. To meet the promise and potential of transfer-in readiness, look for opportunities for cross-division collaboration. Identifying a collaboration champion who can rally the right folks from across divisions to work together to serve transfer-in students is key. This effort will help you build a strong foundation and help your institution become truly “transfer-in ready.”

Kristina ‘KP’ Powers is president of the Institute for Effectiveness in Higher Education.

Have an idea for a blog post? Write to dedman@aacu.org.

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