How might community colleges and four-year universities dramatically improve transfer and graduation rates by reframing the end-to-end experience from the student’s point-of-view?

Research shows that 80 percent of students who enroll in one of our nation’s community colleges every year express an intent to complete a bachelor’s degree at a four-year institution. Yet, in the end, only 25 percent make the leap to a four-year school within five years, and only 17 percent complete a four-year degree within 6 years of transferring.  This is a national failure. In an economy where the lifetime earnings premium for four-year degree holders is still over $1 million compared to a high school graduate ($500,000 more than an associate degree) and nearly three quarters of new jobs created since 2008 have gone to bachelor’s degree holders, the need to support more students in their attainment goal is more critical than ever.

Announcing the Seamless Transfer Pathways Design Challenge Participants

We are pleased to announce the 4 institutional pairs that have been selected to participate in the Seamless Transfer Pathways Design Challenge, an intensive 15-month design process funded by the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation.

The selection process has been incredibly difficult. We reviewed nearly 50 applications representing 100 institutions from 25 states. We looked for patterns among the applications for where we can collectively learn the most together and where pairs are along the 2-year/4-year partnership continuum. These four pairs demonstrated that they are ready, willing, and able to re-think the transfer experience in higher education and transform the relationship between two-year and four-year institutions.

Seamless Transfer Pathways Design Challenge Participants:

  • Miami Dade College & Florida International University
  • Township High School District 211, William Rainey Harper College, & Northern Illinois University
  • Collin College & University of North Texas
  • Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) & George Mason University

Congratulations to the selected institutions! This work will not only impact these participants, but also set a precedent for other schools wanting to re-think their own transfer experiences and working relationships. Based on the strong field of applicants and number of other organizations that have reached out to help, we hope to add additional cohorts as funding becomes available.

To follow the progress of this design challenge, sign-up for our Innovator Network.


The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation has funded the Education Design Lab to lead an intensive one-year Design Challenge beginning Fall, 2017. Four pairs of two- and four-year institutions will develop customized sets of tested interventions that can dramatically move the needle on bachelor’s completion for community college students.

Teams from each institution will participate in three national cohort convenings and another three custom on-site design sessions.  They will be provided access to subject matter experts, coaches and design specialists to help redesign the students’ journey from the student’s point of view via a structured process for developing transformative, not incremental, solutions.  Pilots will launch in Fall, 2018, and results tracked for the next six years.

Throughout the Design Challenge, participants will:

1. Learn the core fundamentals of design-driven innovation and understand how it can bring diverse stakeholders together to co-create on behalf of student success. It can also help to mitigate the age-old problem: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

2. Meet other administrators and experts from around the country focused on transfer pathways in a hands-on, structured creative process to explore how emerging best practices can meet the needs of their students.

3. Design and iterate prototypes toward one or more pilot plans. Training on rapid prototyping and lean-startup methods will help partners arrive at an implementation and launch and evaluation plan, with funded support from a third-party evaluator.

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Recent News

Read Inside Higher Ed’s press coverage on the Seamless Transfer Pathways Design Challenge!

The Odds are Stacked Against Students Transferring From Community Colleges

CCRC, 2015

Read about our other challenges