Transfer—the process whereby a student transfers earned credit from one higher education institution to another—is a growing and increasingly complex trend across the United States. A report recently released by the U.S. Department of Education found that nearly 60 percent of students from the high school class of 1992 attended more than one college by 2000. Transfer has gained a new prominence over the past several years because it represents a critical but ultimately underused pathway toward associate and baccalaureate degree completion. The national literature suggests that approximately half of community college students aspire to transfer to earn a baccalaureate degree, yet only about 25% eventually do go on to transfer. Consequently, higher education institutions and state and federal policy makers across the country are proactively researching and adopting new approaches to raise the number of students who transfer successfully and to increase the efficiency with which transfer students complete degrees such that students are not taking duplicative courses.
In Massachusetts, there is a pressing need for a more highly educated workforce holding associate and baccalaureate degrees. The Massachusetts Department of Workforce Development projects that approximately 56% of the new jobs in the state within the next ten years will necessitate an associate degree or higher versus the 33% of jobs that currently have this requirement. While the need for degrees is on the rise, the chief prediction of a recent report commissioned by the Nellie Mae Foundation forecasting educational attainment rates in New England is that, by the year 2020, all six New England states (with the possible exception of New Hampshire) will have a drop in the percentage of their young population holding a bachelor’s degree or higher. The report goes on to project that Massachusetts’ minority population growth among the working-age population will continue to increase from 12.5% in 1990 to 27.7% in 2020, thus emphasizing the necessity to focus on the degree completion rates of this important population. Given these workforce needs and demographic trends, increasing the number of transfer students who earn postsecondary degrees will have a positive impact on the economic growth and vitality of the Commonwealth. Moreover, efficient degree completion will result in students graduating with less debt and entering the workforce sooner, therefore contributing to the economic and social prosperity of their families, their communities, and the Commonwealth.
Several factors, including the more mobile and diverse college student population, the growing popularity of online courses, and escalating demands on curriculum requirements from national professional, accreditation, and licensure associations, have converged to demand that Massachusetts take a fresh look at its approaches to student transfer. These trends have resulted in a host of obstacles for those involved in the transfer process, which may have the consequence of deterring students from pursuing degrees or of obliging students to take comparable and/or additional courses more than once, thereby extending time to degree completion and increasing costs. Examples of potential transfer barriers in Massachusetts include the following:
- Confusing transfer policies and agreements (e.g. some guarantee transfer of credit but not admission while others guarantee admission but not transfer of credit)
- Inadequate transfer policies and agreements (e.g. approximately only one-quarter of community college transfer students met joint admissions requirements)
- Vague knowledge on how transfer courses will be accepted and applied to the degree
- Inconsistent access to transfer information and to an appeals process
- Lack of knowledge about comparable courses taught at other public higher education institutions
- Few or no opportunities to communicate across campuses
- Lack of support and/or incentives resolving transfer issues
For advisors (faculty and full-time professionals)
- Confusing and inconsistent transfer information
- Inadequate training
- Heavy advising loads
- Labor-intensive development and upkeep of various transfer agreements
- Labor-intensive maintenance and upkeep of institution-to-institution course equivalencies
- Delays in the sending and receiving of student transcripts
For policy makers
- Inconsistent implementation of transfer policies and agreements
- Uneven enforcement of transfer policies and agreements
- Limited measurement of the effectiveness of transfer policies and agreements
The Massachusetts Board of Higher Education and the system of public higher education institutions have over a 30-year long history of developing and implementing statewide and institutional transfer policies and agreements to facilitate student transfer and degree completion.The Board of Higher Education’s authority in relation to transfer is provided in Chapter 15A, Section 9 (v), which states that the Board of Higher Education shall “develop and implement a transfer compact for the purpose of facilitating and fostering the transfer of students without the loss of academic credit or standing from one public institution to another.” Given the new realities of today’s students and higher education institutions, the Board of Higher Education formed the Commonwealth Transfer Advisory Group (CTAG) in April 2007 to evaluate the Commonwealth’s current policies and practices, diagnose barriers associated with transfer, compare and assess policies and practices enacted in other states, recommend policies and practices to remedy transfer barriers, and identify costs associated with proposed solutions (See Appendix A).
CTAG included state legislators from the Joint Committee on Higher Education; chief academic officers, faculty, and transfer directors from the community colleges, the state colleges, and the University of Massachusetts; members of the Joint Admissions Executive Committee; Board of Higher Education members and Department of Higher Education staff; and representatives from independent and regional groups with expertise in transfer issues.
To address the objectives outlined in the charge, CTAG reviewed the national transfer research literature and transfer policies in other states, generated and studied state transfer data, and surveyed the Massachusetts public higher education institutions on several transfer-related issues. CTAG heard presentations on transfer policies and practices from representatives in other states, as well as presentations from local experts. Finally, CTAG investigated potential technology solutions and their associated costs.
The resulting report is a synthesis of the information and research that CTAG assimilated during the course of its meetings which inform the guiding principles and recommendations that emerged. The report provides an overview of current transfer student mobility in Massachusetts, as well as the academic performance of transfer students. This is followed by a description of Massachusetts’ transfer policies and agreements and a comparison to other states. Finally, the set of guiding principles frames the section on recommendations.
2 Cohen, A.M. (2003). Analyzing community college transfer rates. In Cohen, A.M. (Ed). Relating curriculum and transfer. (pp. 71-79). New Directions for Community College series, Number 86. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.; U.S. Department of Education. (2003). The condition of education, 2003. (NECS 2003-067). Washington, DC: Author.