General Education Transfer from Two-Year to Four-Year Institutions in Indiana

As the two largest institutions for higher education in the central Indiana region, Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) and Ivy Tech Community College–Central Indiana were natural partners to help the state of Indiana pursue its college completion goals. Ivy Tech, founded in 1963 as Indiana Vocational Technical College, has grown to be the largest community college in Indiana. In 2005, Ivy Tech was named the official community college system for Indiana (O’Malley 2007). Since that declaration, Ivy Tech’s enrollment has grown significantly. In 2018, there were roughly 94,000 students enrolled in Ivy Tech statewide, with 59,693 of those enrolled at the Indianapolis campus. Ivy Tech’s student population is 68 percent part-time and 70 percent Pell-eligible, with 24 percent having dependents. Their average age is twenty-seven.

IUPUI has followed a similar trajectory. Formed in 1969 by combining educational efforts of Indiana University and Purdue University in Indianapolis, IUPUI has evolved into a vibrant downtown campus which serves as the health sciences campus for Indiana University. Ninety-two percent of the nearly 20,000 undergraduate students at IUPUI are from the state of Indiana, and more than 40 percent are Pell-eligible. After they graduate from IUPUI, 91 percent of alumni remain in Indiana, with approximately 75 percent of those graduates living in central Indiana.

Following the declaration of Ivy Tech as the community college system for Indiana, efforts to formalize intentional pathways from Ivy Tech to IUPUI intensified. Today, more than one-quarter of all new IUPUI students are transfer students. In fall 2018, 2,302 students transferred from Ivy Tech, representing 12.2 percent of the IUPUI student population. The pathway from Ivy Tech to IUPUI has been improved by an increase in articulation agreements and state legislation requiring tightly linked pathways in select degree programs. To further help students navigate the pathway, the Passport Office was created to exclusively focus on the transfer pathway from Ivy Tech to IUPUI.

Description of the Ivy Tech–Central Indiana and IUPUI Partnership

IUPUI and Ivy Tech Community College partnered with the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) in 2011 with the kickoff of the Quality Collaboratives project—an undertaking that required our institutions to engage in the assessment and mapping of learning outcomes to degree pathways. The project created opportunities for faculty from our respective institutions to collaboratively engage in a dialogue about how we measure student accomplishments against learning outcomes.

From this initial project, the collaborative work between our institutions continued through AAC&U’s Multi-State Collaborative, with a focus on assessment, and the Faculty Collaboratives project, with a focus on the development of faculty leaders. Through the Faculty Collaboratives project, two sustained outcomes emerged. First was the establishment of LEAP Indiana, a statewide network of higher education institutions focused on inclusive excellence, which continues to connect faculty across Indiana through meetings. Second was the emergence of collaborative work between institutions to embed high-impact practices into the general education curriculum at various stages in transfer students’ degree paths. This project became the starting point of the General Education Maps and Markers (GEMs) Pathways project, also in partnership with AAC&U.

Through GEMs Pathways, Ivy Tech and IUPUI saw an opportunity to build on the progress made in recent years in moving toward a more unified transfer system by exploring the changing environment students face in their efforts to earn a college degree. As required by legislation passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, Ivy Tech and IUPUI developed Transfer Single Articulation Pathways (TSAPs) for a number of degree programs. TSAPs include sixty credit hours of coursework at Ivy Tech, including the completion of the General Education Core, followed by sixty credit hours of coursework at IUPUI. However, the vast majority of students still move through the general education core curriculum, choosing courses without intentionality or focus and rarely seeing connections between courses in general studies and those in their major.

Both institutions became keenly aware that students do not enter college with uniform backgrounds, experiences, or levels of academic preparedness. Further, the relationships students have with faculty and advisors are among the most meaningful of their time in college and can lead to student success. Finally, there was also a great appreciation for research that suggests high-impact practices, such as first-year seminars, service learning, study abroad, undergraduate research, and capstone courses, have a significant effect on underserved college students, including underrepresented minorities (e.g., African American or Latinx) and students from lower socioeconomic groups (Finley and McNair 2013).

A reimagining of general education became essential because the current, widely used model has students (especially traditionally underserved students) struggling to see the relevance of courses that, when done well, expose them to a depth of essential skills beyond those in their majors. As higher education continues to struggle with gaps in success between privileged student populations and underserved student populations, research has shown that this gap is minimized by exposure to high-impact practices, which have a pronounced impact on traditionally underserved student populations (Finley and McNair 2013).

Goals of the Project

IUPUI and Ivy Tech Community College sought to build upon existing partnerships to facilitate transfer between our institutions and more strongly implement high-impact practices in the general education curriculum. The General Education Core curriculum at Ivy Tech is a distribution of credits over multiple areas of study. Students selected from a set of courses that promote competencies in each area. Courses listed in the State of Indiana Core Transfer Library (CTL) automatically transfer to public four-year institutions. Additionally, in the 2015–16 academic year, the two campuses had just started the process of implementing TSAPs, which were mandated by state law. TSAPs aimed to promote better curricular alignment and a streamlined proficiency-based transfer process.

Ivy Tech Goals
Ivy Tech’s overarching goal for the learning community project was to cultivate an early sense of community and belonging for our students, to help them discover connections between learning in multiple disciplines, and to develop reflective learning habits from the start of their college experience that would transfer through the associate’s degree, into their bachelor’s, and beyond. Ivy Tech endeavored to build upon previous work that began with the Indiana Faculty Collaboratives project’s GEMs initiative. Ivy Tech had these overarching goals:

  1. Examine opportunities to embed high-impact practices that support community building, engagement, and students’ sense of belonging into general education courses beyond the scope of the learning community structure.
  2. Develop an innovative model for learning communities for first-year students, with a focus on complex and meaningful integrated learning.
  3. Seek out opportunities for curricular and cocurricular collaboration between disciplines.
  4. Review, revise, and develop capstone courses to focus on reflection and integration related to essential learning outcomes.
  5. Assess the progress of students by tracking them through information systems, ePortfolio usage, and program review.
  6. Continue examining the challenges of students who are not persisting, and consider what needs are not being met or what challenges create barriers that still need to be addressed within our institutional structure or curriculum design.

In 2008, the RISE to the IUPUI Challenge initiative emerged from a strategic planning process, and it was formally launched in 2009. RISE challenged all IUPUI undergraduates to complete at least two of four possible high-impact experiences as an undergraduate student: (1) undergraduate research; (2) study abroad; (3) service learning in the Indianapolis community; and (4) other experiential learning such as internships, clinical work, and fieldwork experiences.

IUPUI’s project goals focused on ensuring equitable access to RISE experiences (especially for students after they transfer from Ivy Tech) and expanding RISE implementation across the curriculum. They did this by

  • mapping RISE experiences in TSAP programs to understand student access to RISE experiences and ensure equitable access to high-impact practices, including the more intentional use of ePortfolios to provide students with a platform to reflect on their learning;
  • reimagining the capstone experience to ensure equity of access to rich pedagogies intended to foster integrative learning between general education and the major and that enable students to practice applying their knowledge and skills to complex real-world problems;
  • deepening and sustaining collaboration between IUPUI and Ivy Tech.

Project Outcomes

While the work between Ivy Tech and IUPUI started in 2015, both institutions continue to implement the project strategies and measure project outcomes. Complete implementation of high-impact practices across the first year at Ivy Tech or across capstone courses at IUPUI requires systematic change, and that work is ongoing at both institutions. The outcomes presented below represent interim outcomes, and this article concludes with directions for future effort at both institutions.

Outcomes for Ivy Tech
High-impact practices program review. At the start of the project in 2015, Ivy Tech’s first objective was to conduct a survey of existing high-impact practices (HIPs) implemented in TSAP degree programs. The results of this survey found significant strengths across programs: a robust first-year learning experience, designated writing-intensive courses, and service and community-engaged learning opportunities. We also identified HIPs that were not being used to their full potential in most programs. Learning communities and the integration of ePortfolios into students’ first sixty credits were identified as particularly promising areas of focus.

Ivy Tech Community College serves a student population rich in diversity, lived experience, and challenges. The college is committed to being an open-access institution and thus has implemented interventions and supports for students ranging from those who enter needing more academic services to honors students seeking additional challenges and opportunities. And yet, a significant percentage of Ivy Tech’s students are not completing their associate’s degree program or transferring to a four-year institution. Students who are at the highest risk for attrition tend to be those who need more academic support services, nontraditional students, first-generation college students, students from traditionally underserved groups, or students dealing with a wider range of noncognitive issues. The learning community program sought to address inequities in the institution’s support and engagement of these students, specifically as it pertained to students’ first semester in college and the beginning of their general education curriculum.

When enrolling in general education courses, many community college students find it challenging to identify connections between general education requirements and study in the major. We know that general education helps students build essential skills such as critical inquiry, communication, problem solving, synthesizing, and analytical reading and writing. It was the goal of Ivy Tech’s first-year learning community (FYLC) to engage students in complex and meaningful integrated learning from the very start of their college experience, to foster a sense of community among students, and to support them inside and outside of the classroom as they plan their educational path beyond the first semester. We aimed to help students compile reflective ePortfolios in order to recognize links between the content in general education and specialized subject areas, as well as to begin academic and career mapping.

Development of a first-year learning community model. Learning communities are commonly identified as one of eleven high-impact-practices that support student success and retention (see Student learning communities traditionally comprise two or more courses linked and taken as a cohort. Implementing other HIPs into the learning community setting is essential for the success of this model, including the use of ePortfolio-based reflective learning and integrated, interdisciplinary signature work.

As the focus of the Faculty Collaboratives’ GEMs initiative, we proposed a first-year learning community pilot at Ivy Tech Community College in spring 2016. From fall 2016 through fall 2018, our pilot learning communities ran in psychology, education, and design technology. What follows is a description of the major tenets of our model.

Building community. Ivy Tech’s first-year learning community aimed to take a “wrap around” approach to student success. Students began to build a community of learning from the very start of the semester through the learning community, and faculty collaborated with supplemental instruction, tutoring, information literacy specialists, and advisors to ensure students had access to resources and support as they moved through their first semester as college students.

Equity. By its nature, a community college student population necessitates an equity-minded approach in all student success initiatives. Community college represents more than just equal access to higher education; it also means taking stock of the varied levels of support each student needs, reevaluating current programs, and diverting resources to support necessary revisions. One of the aims of this project was to offer maximum support to all students in their first semester and introduce them to the expectations and conventions of college-level work. It was essential that equity be embedded in the mind-set and practices of all learning community team members.

Integrative learning and signature work. A key feature of what we would consider a successful model was to encourage students to begin engaging with complex, unscripted problems from the start of their college career. Faculty teams collaborated to create opportunities for interdisciplinary signature work in the learning community classes. This work was inherently student-led; however, faculty planned possible avenues for students to see the integrated nature of general education coursework and offer opportunities to use the skills they were learning to address significant problems in the form of community engagement, service learning, or interdisciplinary research projects.

Portfolio-based learning and assessment. Student ePortfolio use in the learning communities was designed to allow room for meaningful reflection to make sense of learning experiences, connect course content across disciplines, and shape students’ intellectual identities as they tell the story of their learning. ePortfolios are considered a high-impact practice that has the potential to enhance the impact of other HIPs when used as a reflective learning tool (Kuh 2008). This approach also allowed students to preserve examples of their work for reflection and evaluation of their major or program’s learning outcomes, as well as later use once they transfer to a four-year institution. In addition to being an effective learning tool, the ePortfolio acts as one of the primary means of assessing student proficiency in their work using a modified Integrative Learning VALUE Rubric.

Authentic assessment outcomes. The success of the learning communities has been measured by examining Ivy Tech’s institutional goals of student persistence and completion of degree programs, as well as students’ demonstrated ability to practice integrative learning skills.

We examined student artifacts with a focus on measuring the impact that implementation of high-impact practices in transfer pathways has on student outcomes. We examined the results of artifact assessment using a modified VALUE rubric that measures integration of learning between general education courses and the major. We also examined other metrics—student completion rates of general education courses, grade point averages, and fall-to-spring and fall-to-fall retention rates—for both learning community students and non-learning community students. What we learned is that, particularly among traditionally underserved student populations, there were higher rates of successful completion of general education courses, higher GPAs, and better fall-to-fall retention rates than among their non-learning community counterparts. This is a strong indicator that the kind of community building and engaged learning opportunities present in high-impact practices can be substantially beneficial.

Outcomes for IUPUI
Mapping. Since 2018, there have been fourteen different transfer single articulation pathway agreements between Ivy Tech and IUPUI. The mapping exercise looked at the IUPUI portion of the TSAP agreements, which articulated that transfer students would take sixty credit hours at IUPUI. Of these majors with existing TSAP agreements, all but one required a RISE (research, international, service, or experiential learning) course, and at least one major (education) required nineteen RISE courses. All but three of the programs had additional RISE courses that a student could take to complete their degree. This ranged from a low of one course to a high of eight courses.

The mapping exercise confirmed that Ivy Tech transfer students would be exposed to a minimum of one RISE course during their sixty credit hours of coursework at IUPUI. Because every student on a TSAP plan had access to at least one RISE course, either required or as a program elective, no additional effort was focused on individual majors for the specific creation of new RISE courses. Instead, IUPUI relied on a new strategy for engaged learning: the creation of the Institute for Engaged Learning, which is discussed later in this article.

Capstone courses. IUPUI has made significant progress in the development of capstone courses as a signature element of the IUPUI experience. Starting in 2017, faculty and advisors across campus identified the capstone experience required for each major. More than three-quarters of all IUPUI programs featured a capstone course. Once identified, these courses were given a unique indicator in the IUPUI student information system so that overall participation can be tracked. The tracking system went live in 2019.

In addition, during the 2018−19 academic year, the newly created Institute for Engaged Learning initiated a capstone community of practice with two main focal points. First, faculty were asked to develop a taxonomy to guide best practices around capstone courses. Second, faculty were asked to identify ways in which the capstone courses could be used to gauge student progress toward IUPUI’s new institutional learning outcomes, the Profiles of Learning for Undergraduate Success: communicator, problem solver, innovator, and community contributor.

The profiles, developed during the 2017−18 academic year and approved by the IUPUI faculty council in May 2018, formally launched in fall 2019. Faculty see capstone courses as a critical point at which they can work with students to help them reflect on their experience at IUPUI and on their progress toward the development of each of the four profiles. This work would have particular relevance for understanding the experiences of transfer students at IUPUI.

The faculty community of practice successfully developed an extensive taxonomy to guide the work of capstone courses. This taxonomy prescribes several key facets for every IUPUI capstone course:

  • Programs are highly committed to capstone courses and use capstone courses to assess student progress toward the profiles and adjust curricula according to gaps and deficiencies identified.
  • Students reflect on what they have learned during their time at IUPUI and integrate knowledge across their various curricular and cocurricular learning experiences.
  • Students produce a tangible deliverable from their work in the capstone course.
  • Students undertake a public demonstration of that tangible deliverable.

The work to create the taxonomy for capstone courses consumed the faculty work in 2018–19 and continues at IUPUI in the 2019−20 academic year. IUPUI’s goal is that every academic program will offer a capstone course in alignment with the newly created taxonomy, and the campus will hold a fall event for all capstone instructors. Following this, instructors will create a community of practice whose focus will be on integrating the taxonomy into all capstone courses and prescribing tools and methods for using the capstone course to assess student learning toward the profiles.

Institute for Engaged Learning. Now ten years old, the IUPUI RISE initiative has led to an increased focus on integrating high-impact practices into a variety of courses at IUPUI. This has benefitted all students, including the large number of transfer students from Ivy Tech to IUPUI. While the original goal of the RISE program was to have students participate in at least two RISE experiences, IUPUI decided in 2017 to increase this goal to have every student participate in four curricular or cocurricular high-impact experiences during their college career.

The Institute for Engaged Learning, envisioned by Chancellor Nasser Paydar and Chief Academic Officer Kathy Johnson to signify IUPUI’s continued and increased commitment to high-impact learning experiences, was created with the charge of ensuring equitable access to HIPs for all students. Additionally, the institute brought together entities (e.g., Center for Research and Learning, Center for Service and Learning, ePortfolio programs, first-year experiences, and Gateway to Graduation programs) that had been located in a variety of different units.

The vision of the Institute for Engaged Learning is that all IUPUI undergraduate students will participate in educational pathways that include at least four engaged learning experiences and be transformed by making meaningful connections among their degree, life experiences, and post-graduation goals. To achieve this vision, the Institute for Engaged Learning promotes and supports the equitable progression of undergraduates through pathways of connected and scaffolded curricular and cocurricular, applied, integrative, and experiential learning opportunities that prepare students for lives of commitment and success with skills to communicate, innovate, and engage in local and global communities to address twenty-first-century problems.

One of the first key projects of the Institute for Engaged Learning was a campus-wide collaboration to promote equity-mindedness during the 2018−19 academic year. This project aimed to contribute to the creation of a cultural shift at IUPUI by focusing on two intersecting goals: (1) intentionally infusing diversity and global-mindedness throughout the college curriculum with a focus on high-impact practices and engaged learning, and (2) equipping our faculty and staff to be culturally competent agents of change through diversity and intercultural training and professional development workshops.

In addition to hosting multiple events, including a LEAP Indiana conference focused on equity-mindedness and high-impact practices, IUPUI focused on how students progressed through various plans of study with the Purposeful Pathways project. Six different academic units studied students’ pathways and developed strategies to infuse high-impact practices into specific points of a student’s academic career. For example, the School of Engineering and Technology partnered with University College (where all undeclared students at IUPUI are housed) to identify ways to encourage students that did not place into college algebra that there was still a path to an engineering degree.

Outcomes and measurables. In order to measure the success of this project, IUPUI looked at the number of RISE courses taken by Ivy Tech students at IUPUI. Table 1 shows data on the number of Ivy Tech students who transferred to IUPUI, as well as those who specifically came from Ivy Tech–Central Indiana, which is IUPUI’s closest partner. Analysis of the data shows mixed results. While the number of RISE courses taken by Ivy Tech students declined over three years, the number of RISE courses taken by Ivy Tech–Central Indiana students increased slightly. The RISE results are not completely surprising as IUPUI is just now in full implementation mode related to increasing high-impact practices. With the advent of the Institute for Engaged Learning, IUPUI expects these numbers to increase.

Table 1. Rise Courses Taken at IUPUI By Transfer Students from IVY Tech


*Based on students classified as transfer students in the academic year and most recent transfer institution for the students
**Due to minor changes in the way Indiana University tracks Ivy Tech transfer students starting in 2017, there are slight differences between the way categories were classified in 2017–18 and 2018–19 compared with 2016–17.


Challenges and Takeaways

As IUPUI and Ivy Tech have been working closely on projects since 2011 and on the GEMs Pathways project, in particular, since 2015, the two institutions can identify challenges and insights. For example, during the period of the GEMs Pathways project, the point people at both institutions transitioned into new roles, necessitating the transfer of leadership of the project at both institutions. It was helpful in this transition that both institutions possessed working documents describing the project. However, that could not fully overcome gaps in knowledge that naturally occur. These transitions also resulted in a more deliberate implementation of the project. In the future, the institutions will strive for even more detailed work plans so that these gaps can be minimized.

Another challenge we identified was the lack of a common student management system where assessment data and student outcomes can be shared. Similarly, while building ePortfolios that begin in the first sixty credits of students’ TSAPs program was discussed as a possible objective, lacking a shared or consistent ePortfolio platform became a barrier. Ideally, a student would transfer the ePortfolio across institutions and thus be able to more effectively make connections across the institutions in knowledge gained and skills learned. The increasing sophistication of freely available ePortfolio tools and the industry focus on creating ePortfolios that are more portable should allow IUPUI and Ivy Tech to more effectively work together to solve the portability issues.

Given the focus on high-impact practices at both institutions, a high level of faculty buy-in was required. Both institutions used pilot projects and data to share the positive results of infusing high-impact practices, but garnering widespread faculty buy-in takes time. As a result, both institutions continue to work on scaling these projects for maximum impact while collecting data that demonstrates the efficacy of the programs.

Despite these challenges, we have identified concrete successes and ways in which this work has been significant. Through the GEMs Pathways project, Ivy Tech and IUPUI have taken steps to address issues of equity and access for transfer students. We have generated additional data to demonstrate that students who participate in HIPs are more successful and tend to matriculate and complete degree programs. Ivy Tech and IUPUI have also formed close collaborations around creating opportunities for faculty to participate in professional development related to integrative learning. Finally, Ivy Tech and IUPUI have developed opportunities for reflective learning that draws connections between signature experiences from the first-year through the capstone.



Finley, Ashley, and Tia McNair. 2013. Assessing Underserved Students' Engagement in High-Impact Practices. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Kuh, George D. 2008. High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

O’Malley, Chris. 2007. “Ivy Tech: New Community College with Long History.” Indianapolis Business Journal. April 23.


Heather King, Assistant Professor of English, Ivy Tech Community College–Central Indiana; and Jay Gladden, Associate Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Education, Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis


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