Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The New Normal: The Transfer Experience

I write this blog as I fly to a conference hosted each year in Dallas, by the University of North Texas’s National Institute for the Study of the Transfer Students. This will be my first time as an attendee, and it is overdue. This conference is about improving the success of transfer students.

Like all educators, I am shaped by my prior life’s experiences. These give me values, knowledge, interest, prejudice, focus, motivation. They shape the way I see and understand anything. And, in that vein, although I have taught thousands of “transfer” students, I was never one myself. And that is a limitation. So why am I concerned about this now and trying to learn more about it?

Because the transfer experience is now the “new normal.” Just over 60% of all currently enrolled college students seeking a BA degree will have attended more than one institution and then “transferred” by the time their BA is awarded.

And because most institutions and educators really know very little about this experience and these students. We just haven’t taken the time to seriously study this.

But we want these students to come to us; we want their money.

And we want this even though many of us have very strong prejudices about transfer students: they are inferior to “native” students; they are less well prepared; their success rates for BA attainment are lower; they bring more “problems” with them. Such are our beliefs, regardless of whether or not they are supported by any evidence.

I care about this issue because unless we pay more attention to these students, learn more about them, offer them more intentional support, we cannot possibly achieve President Obama’s goals to increase BA attainment rates in our country.

And I care about these students for a very practical professional reason, namely, I am the CEO of a small non-profit organization that is engaging in a national pilot this year to help campuses conduct a self study to develop an action plan to improve transfer student performance. This process is known as Foundations of Excellence ® Transfer Focus. We have six four-year colleges undertaking this pilot this year and will add a cohort of two-year colleges next year. For more information see

Another thing many of us higher educators know nothing about is a sub set of the transfer experience known as “reverse transfer.” This refers to students transferring from baccalaureate level (and higher) institutions to community colleges after receipt of an advanced degree. For example, it was reported in The Chronicle a few years ago, that one of the campuses of Northern Virginia Community College had 350 PhD’s on its faculty and about 500 in its student body: reverse transfers.

So, for me, the transfer population is my new frontier. I have so much more to learn about them and therefore I suspect that I am in good company with you. Please join me. And then let’s do something to more intentionally promote their success.

John N. Gardner

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