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.
Project Updates

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.

Read more about our 1st Convening for the Seamless Transfer Pathways Design Challenge here!

Coach's Corner

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.

Meet the 2017-18 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.

Questions? Contact us at

Recent News

An Inside Look Into Our Design Challenge

The Odds are Stacked Against Students Transferring From Community Colleges

(CCRC, 2015)

In the Media

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

On the Road to Building Seamless Transfer Pathways

Stakeholder attendees  participating in the NOVA/Mason Walk. Twitter LinkedIn The Seamless Transfer Pathways team has been on the road, visiting...

Coach’s Corner: An Inside Look Into The Seamless Transfer Pathways Challenge

  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...

The Lab kicks off the 1st Convening for the Seamless Transfer Pathways Design Challenge

Twitter LinkedIn Last week, the much heralded Seamless Transfer Pathways Design Challenge kicked off with the presidents of George Mason University...

ReImagining the Resume with Members of 47 HBCUs

Twitter LinkedIn The Lab engaged 400 students and 60 college coordinators representing career services, retention offices, and alumni affairs as...

The Lab leads Innovation Design Sprint for UNCF Career Pathways Initiative

Twitter LinkedIn The Lab leads Innovation Design Sprint for UNCF Career Pathways InitiativeHow do you turn the ship– historically black colleges and...

Education Design Lab’s Seamless Transfer Pathways Design Challenge featured in Inside Higher Ed

Twitter LinkedIn Every year in the United States, approximately 600,000 students enter a community college with the goal of ultimately attaining a...
CCRC, 2015
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