In their recently released report Strategies for Increasing Diversity and Opportunity in Higher Education the US Department of Education estimates that over 80% of community college students intend to transfer and go on to earn their bachelor degree - yet ONLY 14% do. This is not only one heck of an attainment gap, but also one heck of an equity gap. Especially when you consider a majority of that 14% are received by selective institutions and come from a high-income background.
Thus, the ED has issued the call to create a level playing field by breaking down barriers that prevent socioeconomic challenged groups from reaching their full potential. At their Raise the Bar: Tackling Transfer to Increase Access, Improve Completion, and Prepare Today’s Workforce summit , the message was loud and clear that we have a “broken” transfer system which must be fixed. The biggest culprit being that during the transfer process students lose credit and must retake classes which in turn means they will have to exert extra effort, spend extra time, and fork out extra money to complete a credential.
“We shouldn’t be surprised when students give up," said Secretary of Education Miguel A. Cardona in recorded remarks from the summit. "We shouldn’t be surprised when students end up in debt with no degree. This is the system we came to fix. If we want to raise the bar for degree completion, then we must reimagine transfer in this country.
Not surprisingly, talks about the best way to fix it focused on shaping clear and transparent policies. The summit lauded successful examples of sending and receiving institutions that have formed strong and holistic partnerships and offer proactive advising support. These are all wonderful goals to strive for. Unfortunately for many colleges and universities, they are goals that must be put on the wish list. The regrettable reality is that insufficient funding often leads to high student-to-advisor ratios, limited resources to support faculty college to university collaborations, and an overall reduced availability of support services.
Another big ask the ED department is making of states and institutions is to better utilize technology and data to help stem the credit loss tide. To this end, I am a huge proponent that effective, automated degree planning tools which give students the means to self-advise are one of those better use cases. We are in the age of information, so why shouldn’t we use it to empower them to make informed choices?
Let’s give our students the reins to go ahead and figure out what courses they need to take and how they fit into their academic journey. Then person-to-person advising sessions can be proactive going beyond checking boxes and meeting requirements to focusing on broader educational and career goals.