Improving equitable transfer

ETI participants enjoy an ice-breaker gathering at the first ETI meeting in Chicago. (Photos: Kent Phillippe)

About 80 transfer professionals met last week in Chicago as part of the Equity Transfer Initiative (ETI) to explore ways to improve equitable transfer on community college-to-university baccalaureate pathways.

ETI is a two-year national initiative led by the American Association of Community Colleges, with support from its partners the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), and funding from the ECMC and Ascendium foundations. ETI aims to increase transfer rates for African-American, Hispanic, Native-American, adult and first-generation learners. Each team must place at least 100 students on one of five identified transfer pathways by the end of the first year and 300 or more total by the end of the second year.

Related article: Partnerships selected for Equity Transfer Initiative

Higher education consultant Shannon Looney challenged the attendees to reimagine transfer. She noted that at 33%, people are more likely to successfully climb Mount Everest than successfully start at a community college and earn a bachelor’s degree. Looney added that higher education was not designed to be inclusive but exclusive, and that transfer was not designed to be equitable but exclusive.

Attendees were asked to reflect on transfer barriers on campus, and how their work can reimagine transfer to ameliorate those barriers to equitable transfer.

Higher education consultant Shannon Looney asks ETI meeting attendees to rethink their transfer efforts. 

Data challenges

Education consultant Trudy Bers, previously executive director of research, curriculum and planning at Oakton Community College in Illinois, spoke to one of the persistent challenges to ETI colleges — how to collect and use data to improve transfer more effectively. Transfer partnerships were encouraged to explore how they are using data to understand four different student plans that impact success: their academic, financial, career and personal plans.

In her presentation, Bers discussed the importance of using different types of data to measure equity gaps, identify barriers and measure not just success but leading indicators of success.

Related article: Why equity in transfer and why now?

Sustaining the work of the ETI initiative was an important component of the recent convening, and Heather Adams, senior program manager of transfer initiatives at the Aspen Institute, provided challenges and strategies for sustaining the work going forward. Many of these principles she presented can be found in the Transfer Playbook produced by the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program and the Community College Research Center. An exercise where the colleges were asked to look at their mission statements and strategic plans to see if and how transfer was included in those documents led to an opportunity for the teams to explore how they can work to connect transfer with the larger institutional mission/vision.

Check-in at the ETI meeting.

In addition to hearing from national experts, attendees spent time learning from each other through presentations of lessons learned to date and guided conversations on critical ETI topics such as using data, outreach to underserved populations, and improving transfer practices and policies in the partnership.

Attendees left the three-day meeting energized by the connections they made with other transfer professionals in the 17 transfer partnerships, the lessons learned and actions to be taken.

About the Author

Kent Phillippe
Kent Phillippe is vice president for research and student success at the American Association of Community Colleges. He is project director for the Equity Transfer Initiative.