De-Marginalizing Transfer

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In 2022, we published 50 blogs in Beyond Transfer elevating the insights of researchers, practitioners, equity-minded reformers, and students themselves. Amid the tremendous diversity of contributors and topics included in the 2022 line up, the unifying thread was each author’s commitment to leveling the playing field for the growing share of students who attend multiple institutions and acquire learning in multiple settings on their way to a credential. The pieces we included reflected advancements in the field nationwide and highlighted:

  • Leading-edge research on transfer and credit mobility;
  • New and improved directions in practice-based work on transfer; and
  • Next-level policy and advocacy efforts aimed at mobilizing influencers and connecting the dots among transfer student success, equity, and upward mobility through postsecondary attainment.

In addition to individual submissions highlighting the work of institutions in more than a dozen states, the blog also featured multiple posts from important groups like the Beyond Transfer Policy Advisory Board and the A2B research team at CUNY, as well as from key intermediaries like NASH (the National Association of System Heads) and AACRAO (the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers).  

Alongside a growing number of submissions from far and wide, we also received a variety of encouraging notes from researchers, practitioners, and philanthropies who found the blog of practical use. Researchers told us the blog helped them sharpen their thinking and connect with other researchers; practitioners shared how they found inspiration and peer support by connecting with contributors; and staff at philanthropies told us they learned more about the complex landscape of transfer and credit mobility.

As we look to the coming year, we intend for this blog to contribute in meaningful ways to the necessary and profoundly countercultural work of de-marginalizing transfer and the students who are currently treated so unfairly by long-standing policies, everyday practices, and deeply ingrained mindsets. We’ll seek to deepen partnerships and elevate courageous voices, and we’ll work to accelerate transformative knowledge sharing. We will continue to feature important local partnership work and the good work being done on vertical transfer by individual institutions. 2023 will also ramp up posts focused on fundamental drivers of accelerated, sustainable, scalable progress on the work of producing real equity in opportunity and outcomes for today’s learners.

Will Building for the Hard Work

Historically, transfer has been treated as a side issue — something that affects a siloed group of students. It is now increasingly understood that the majority of students in America today would significantly benefit from improved transfer and credit mobility. Almost 40 percent of all first-time students transfer institutions within their first six years of college enrollment, and of those who transfer, almost half (45%) change institutions two or more times. At least 39 million Americans have some college credits, and have not yet received a credential. Over a third of high school students now take college courses while in high school. Adding in all of the Americans with military experience, engaged in digital badging, and benefiting from work-based learning leads to the recognition that movement across work and learning are now the norm. 

Because issues related to transfer, credit mobility, and recognition of learning will impact a growing majority of learners in coming years, the national conversation needs to level up and the responsibility for progress must be more widely distributed and equitably borne. In 2022, we began an intentional effort to draw in accreditors, for example, and we expect this work to deepen and widen in 2023. We will also be welcoming blog submissions from those who are working in bigger and bolder ways to advance transfer and credit mobility through engagement of a widened group of stakeholders such as state and regional economic development agencies, employers, community-based organizations, and equity coalitions.

Attending to Incentives and Antecedents

Despite a variety of excellent, evidence-based innovations available to equity-minded reformers seeking to make transfer seamless for students, it remains the case in higher education (as in other industries) that most failures of innovation are in fact failures of implementation. In turn, most failures of implementation are related to the human side of change. Important work has been underway for many years, and is continuing to evolve, in areas such as deepening transfer partnerships, mapping out transfer pathways and improving advising. But comparatively little attention has been paid to identifying the financial and reputational incentives and conditions needed to promote the institutional policies, practices, and culture associated with the equitable treatment of transfer students.

Deepening the conversation about the incentives and antecedents in policy and practice for meaningful student-focused reforms will be a key focus of Beyond Transfer in 2023, and we will be on the lookout for work that points toward bigger levers for change. Advances in policy related to institutional and student finances, in technologies that show special promise for improving equity in opportunity and outcomes, and in system-level efforts around credit mobility and recognition of learning will be given special attention. We’ll have our eye on the new Carnegie Classification for Social and Economic Mobility, and we’ll continue to deepen our understanding of the full range of levers available in the pursuit of seamless transfer.

Looking Ahead, Expanding the Conversation

Despite decades of work on transfer student success on a range of fronts, it remains the case in 2023 that learners who attend multiple institutions are at a distinct disadvantage and they continue to be treated unfairly. Persistent equity gaps in opportunities and outcomes for transfer students, exacerbated by the pandemic, show clearly how our postsecondary institutions and systems were not designed to meet the needs of today’s students. The pull of the status quo remains enormous and not enough truth is being told about the way that America’s higher education ecosystem operates — despite our stated values and aspirations — to enforce rather than challenge hierarchies of privilege and subordination that are constructed along race and class lines.

At the same time, there is so much promising and truly exciting work underway across the country — work aimed at exposing and redressing the egregious inequities baked into our systems, and work aimed at remaking a transfer and credit mobility ecosystem that centers students and honors high-quality learning wherever it is achieved. There are courageous leaders working hard every day, in every state and system, to make good on our country’s social contract about the relationship between education and upward mobility. These individuals, institutions, and organizations give us hope and fuel our optimism. We look forward to elevating their voices in 2023, and to sharing the insights of values-aligned change-makers everywhere.

Join our conversation at #BeyondTransfer. To learn more about submitting blogs to Beyond Transfer, please contact Quintina Barnett Gallion at [email protected].

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