PDF Version
Executive Summary
The Importance of 2/4 Transfer
The Different Dimensions of Transfer
The Accountability Problem and Transfer “Rates”
Research on State Policy and Transfer
Six-State Focus
    New Mexico
    New York
    North Carolina
Lessons Learned about State Transfer Policy
Conclusions and Recommendations
State Resources
About the Author
The Institute for Higher Education Policy
The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education

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Page 16 of 21


State policy can make a difference in the effectiveness of statewide 2/4 transfer performance. States that have a comprehensive, integrated approach to transfer policy seem to do better than those that focus primarily on transfer as an academic and institutional matter. Many of the states selected for this analysis have done a good deal to strengthen their statewide transfer policies in the last few years, and these steps may improve transfer performance in the years ahead. However, states that focus only on academic policy are unlikely to energize 2/4 transfer. To focus on statewide performance as well as accountability, the states need policies that relate funding and accountability to academic strategies. This combination is particularly important for making transfer an effective tool for diversity and mobility within higher education.

The comparative analysis of this study suggests that policymakers can benefit from a fresh look at what is known about student flow and performance. No state is using all the tools available to stimulate transfer performance, tools that include student aid, setting goals, and rewarding transfer performance.

The following recommendations are intended to help states energize 2/4 transfer performance.

  1. Develop baseline information on statewide transfer performance, including retention and graduation of transfer students. Data on transfer performance is a prerequisite to improving transfer policy and transfer effectiveness. The national data show clear patterns about the factors that correlate with 2/4 transfer success: the age, attendance patterns, and academic preparation of incoming students; the institutional emphasis on transfer programs; and the relationships (including geographic proximity) to receiving institutions. States need to understand the correlates of success within their own state, to build upon them, and to identify the missing ingredients for students and institutions that do not have a history of success. States that do not have information about transfer performance should begin by collecting baseline data, on both 2/4 and other types of transfer, for sending and receiving institutions; performance data for 2/4 transfer students at the four-year institutions; and subsets of transfer data by institution, region, and ethnic group. States that do not have student-based tracking systems need to develop them. Tracking should extend to in-state private colleges as well, since they receive state funds that play a role in transfer performance. States will also need to understand out-of-state transfer patterns for their students. In regions where out-of-state transfers are common, it may be possible for states to forge agreements about tuition reciprocity and transfer of credit, policies that will smooth the path for these students.
  2. Clarify state policy and plans for 2/4 transfer, and set goals and measures for 2/4 transfer performance. States should set broad-based goals for 2/4 transfer, and determine how they will measure 2/4 transfer performance. This policy needs to be designed to meet the needs of the state and the students, rather than the institutions. Performance goals and measures should include four-year as well as two-year colleges. States should develop general goals for bachelor’s degree attainment for 2/4 transfer students, which should address disparities in baccalaureate attainment among racial and ethnic groups. Multiple indicators of 2/4 transfer performance should be developed, as these are preferable to any single transfer rate; to be meaningful, the indicators must be monitored over time. Transfer performance reporting should not be limited to full-time students or to students who complete the associate degree prior to transfer.
  3. Identify and invest in core resources for transfer. As long as statewide goals are met, not all public two-year institutions need to have identical goals for 2/4 transfer performance. States should identify the campuses that have weak transfer programs, and either improve the programs or ensure that transfer-potential students will have their needs met elsewhere. For example, if resources or student demand are not sufficient to maintain transferable courses on all campuses, students should be encouraged to take the courses they need on other two-year or four-year campuses through distance learning, university-centers, or other cooperative agreements. Special funding opportunities can provide incentives for other institutions to share in this responsibility.
  4. Perform statewide transfer policy audits. States should audit their policies on transfer and evaluate how these policies relate to performance goals and measures. The policy audit should address both those academic policies designed to influence transfer and statewide policies on reporting for time to degree, remediation, financial aid, enrollment planning, tuition, funding, and accountability. The principal purposes of this audit are to ensure that policies are consistent and that performance measures (credits to degree versus time to degree) do not inadvertently discourage transfer performance. States should also use the most recent national research on student mobility in analyzing their own student flow patterns, to learn how their students and institutions compare to national data.
  5. Forge articulation and credit transfer agreements. Students in community colleges should not have to negotiate transfer credit agreements on an individual basis with receiving institutions. States that have not already done so should work to ensure that there are common agreements between public two- and four-year colleges about the transfer core curriculum. Articulation agreements that extend to disciplines and majors should also be developed, beginning at the regional level if statewide agreements are impractical.
  6. Focus on low-performing institutions. Improvements in educational equity will require attention to low-performing urban community colleges. States that have not already done so should create transfer improvement programs that partner the state with two- and four-year institutions to strengthen transfer in institutions that serve the highest number of at-risk students. The starting point should be an objective analysis of the factors inhibiting transfer performance in the institutions. Different program models for improving transfer performance could be tried, using cooperative arrangements between community colleges, partnership programs with four-year institutions, and student mentoring programs.
  7. Use financial aid as a tool to promote 2/4 transfer. Financial aid programs should be evaluated to ensure that they do not exclude a large number of transfer students through limits on years of enrollment or through reductions in awards for part-time students. Financial aid can also create incentives for students to follow the enrollment paths most likely to lead to retention and baccalaureate attainment. For instance, we know that students are more likely to persist to the baccalaureate degree if they complete their associate degree prior to transfer. A financial aid program designed to support transfer could provide a stipend or a tuition reduction at the four-year campus for 2/4 transfer students who earn their associate degree at a community college. Maryland has recently implemented such a program, which awards $3,000 a year to students with family incomes below $95,000 who transfer from a two-year college to full-time enrollment in a four-year bachelor’s degree program with 60 units or an associate degree.
  8. Include private institutions in transfer planning and performance accountability. Private two- and four-year institutions play an important role in serving 2/4 transfer students but are sometimes not included in statewide planning and accountability systems. High-growth states should consider creating financial incentives to encourage private institutions to recruit and retain 2/4 transfer students, such as financial aid stipends or bonuses for baccalaureate degrees awarded to transfer students.


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and the Institute for Higher Education Policy

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