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.
Beginning in 2017, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation has funded the Education Design Lab to lead an intensive one-year Design Challenge to re-design the student transfer experience. 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. As part of the effort, the Lab is providing participating teams with access to subject matter experts, coaches and design specialists to help teams develop transformative, rather just incremental, solutions. Pilots will launch in Fall 2018, with results tracked for the next six years.
January/February 2018: Gallery Walk & Ideation Sessions
Over the past few months, we’ve spent time collecting and reviewing information from campus teams, including interviews with students, faculty, staff, field observations, and surveys. At the Gallery Walk & Ideation sessions, participants will have an opportunity to explore and experience this information; for our challenge, participants will be able to move around the gallery to review critical elements synthesized from the research. They will develop this research into insights and themes, which will then be used to refine design criteria and help brainstorm ideas for concept development.
October 2017 Kick-Off Convening
The Lab kicked off the 1st Convening for the Seamless Transfer Pathways Design Challenge in October at George Mason University. Administrators and staff from all nine institutions participated in an intense two-day, interactive design engagement focused on what the Lab calls the “Understand” phase. During this session, team members worked together to parse out important data and information gaps to get a better understanding of the challenges students on their campus face and consider solution opportunities from the student perspective.
As I sit on the plane, headed to our second convening at the University of North Texas where all the Seamless Transfer Pathways partners will come together to determine their pilot, I cannot help but be excited. In my last update, I talked about the qualitative research we completed, as well as the fast-moving timeline we are trying to adhere to as we move to the solution space. As we all come together as a group in the next couple of days, I am confident each team has the research, prototypes, and motivation to select and build a pilot.
Many of the themes we are finding from our interviews are reminders of the experiences that transfer students have every day. As we sought to better understand our students and how they are impacted by the themes we asked each institution to create their own student personas (STP Personas). Not surprisingly, our institutions found similarities among personas that spanned across the cohorts, as well as the nation. After spending some time further exploring who are students are, what our students need, and how they are motivated when it comes to degree attainment, we were ready to start ideating on the barriers they are facing.
We know that students need clear, concise information. The GAO report earlier this fall pointed to better information flow through various platforms. We know that all students, but particularly transfer students, want to feel as though they belong to both (or more) of the institutions and that their relationship with faculty and staff is a significant driver when it comes to overall student success. We also know that transfer shock still exists, although I do think there has been a shift in what this shock means. The fact is that each campus has its own climate and culture and just when a transfer student thinks they understand or feel comfortable in that culture it is time for them to leave, either by transfer or graduation. The teams spent the last few months working together further exploring the impact of these themes on their collective student body. They created personas to understand better who there are students are, where they are coming from, and what they want from this academic journey.
These “non-ah-aha’s”, as I like to call them, bring the wickedness of the problem to the forefront. It is not that we do not know WHAT our students’ needs are, or that we haven’t been working towards remedies. It is that our institutions operate in silos, and when you add another institution into the mix, the silos get more prominent and barriers spread; as a result, our solutions tend to be limited and contained. In order for us to make meaningful change and move the needle for our students, we must work together in a much more deliberate and intentional way. This means setting up the time to meet and making those meetings a priority for administrators. It means that during each of these meetings there needs to be a laser focus on building joint solutions that we collectively own. It means coming together under a united front for OUR students to ensure their road to success is as seamless as possible.
Our teams started the beginning of the Design Challenge year with a commitment to jointly designing solutions that would benefit our students. Each #SeamlessTransfer Design Session has created a stronger sense of comradery among our institutional pairs moving toward this joint goal. After all, it is our mission, our passion, and why we are still doing this critical work. However, the success of our efforts, and consequently the success of our students, will not and cannot happen unless we are bringing people, including the students themselves to the table to talk about these issues and ideate around solutions that work for students. I am excited these campuses, thanks to the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, have committed to this process and are taking the time to hear students and recognize the importance of their voice to breaking down these silos and removing barriers to success. They are being empowered by their schools to take the time to make transfer student success their priority, and to do it together, collectively in a safe space where we can have the tough conversations with other like-minded student-centered professionals. I implore other institutions to follow suit. There was an article in the Washington Post (Article) around how transfer students and their credit portability is getting more attention these days. I was not surprised that the article mentioned that schools are starting to pay more attention as the number of traditional-aged students is declining. But, whatever, I will take it- I will take the national spotlight and narrative to affix its glaze towards transfer, even if it is because of the reduction of “traditional” students and not because it is essential and overdue for the success of every student. Now is the time for us to get together and work on and across our campuses. It is time to be proactive to the needs of what is the majority of our student population. I am ready. The Seamless Transfer Design Teams are ready. Are you?
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If you were given a magic wand and could make any ONE thing happen to increase successful completion among your students, what would that be? What are the most significant hurdles transfer students face on their journey to complete a degree?
These are just a couple of the questions we have been asking advisors, counselors, and administrators these last few weeks. The answers are brilliant, frustrating, but most importantly, optimistic. As the seamless transfer pathways, #seamlesstransfer, coach I have had the opportunity to talk one-on-one with students, counselors, advisors, administrators, and more, since the Lab, through a grant from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation started digging deeper into transfer student stop-out. The statistics within this demographic are startling, but what is not surprising is that there is no single reason, there are not even three or four standard reasons that our students are leaving higher education before completing a degree. Our student population is dynamic and diverse, which means our innovations must follow suit. I am happy to report that this diverse, dynamic thinking is happening throughout all four institutional pairs in the #seamlesstransfer project. After our first convening in October our teams went back to their campuses to continue exploring who their transfer students are, where are they falling out of the transfer pipeline, their experiences, both good and bad, at these institutions.
Teams are examining important, relevant topics, all from a student journey perspective, like diving deeper into STEM and Biology pathways in Florida and taking a closer look at what services are essential and necessary, at all levels of study, to the students of Northern Virginia. Our Illinois team is examining how college and career readiness can start in high school and carry on into the two and four-year institutions. And, the academic leaders of Northern Texas are learning more about the importance of communication, starting in high school and moving through the two and four-year systems, when it comes to creating Business pathways to ensure that they have enough qualified and engaged workers to aid their fast-growing economy. One key group that faces struggles and risk across the cohort is the “undecideds,” students who don’t begin the process knowing what they want out of either the AA or BA/BS. Most importantly, these pairs are thinking differently they are embracing the growth mindset and letting the student’s voice lead them on their #seamlesstransfer pathway. The New Year will bring new insights as we move from the “what-is” phase to exploring the “what-if’s” and create numerous prototypes that will continue to dig deeper into our transfer student needs. Our goal is that each team has a pilot in place by Fall 2018, a lofty, but important goal, as we move to make 2018 the year for improved, innovative, and student-focused #seamlesstransfer pathways.
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:
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.
Questions? Contact us at SeamlessTransfer@eddesignlab.org
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