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 camaraderie 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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As a coach for the Seamless Transfer Pathways Design Challenge, Leslie oversees the cohort’s design work and helps teams coordinate research, design strategies, and activities as well as facilitate in-person design sessions. Leslie began her higher education career working as an admission counselor at a small four-year private liberal arts university. In this role, she saw an immediate need to build better pathways for transfer students transitioning from the two-year to the four-year institution.
Leslie transitioned to the world of academic advising at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, where she helped create academic maps and curricular plans for students, focusing on how to increase communication between faculty at the two and four-year institutions to ease the overall transfer experience. She expanded this work while serving as the Transfer Coordinator at SIUE. In this role, she worked with community colleges to create seamless 2+2 and dual admission programs, which included placing and integrating fulltime SIUE advisors on the community college campus. She also worked directly on the Department of Labor’s Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant. Her work on this grant included bridging the gap between technical associate degrees and the paths to baccalaureate degree attainment.
Leslie has a Master’s degree in Educational Studies and is working on her doctorate in Higher Education Leadership focusing her research on student perception to reverse transfer initiatives, specifically transfer students who left the four-year institution before earning a degree.