Seamless Transfer Pathways

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?


Beginning in Fall 2017, the Lab, with funding from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, led an intensive design challenge to re-design the student transfer experience. Research shows that 80% 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% make the leap to a four-year school within five years, and only 17% complete a four-year degree within six years of transferring. Over two years, the Lab engaged a cohort of four transfer partnerships in a structured human-centered design process, providing access to subject matter experts, coaches and design specialists to help the teams develop transformative solutions. The Seamless Transfer Pathways pilots launched in fall 2019 and results will be tracked through 2025.

The Teams

Miami Dade College + Florida International University

With approximately 90,000 students, Miami Dade College is the largest institution of higher education in the country. The longstanding partnership between Miami Dade College and Florida International University is an essential component of the education pipeline for the Miami community. Leveraging the success of the Connect4Success partnership with Florida International University, the team designed their pilot, TRANSFERMATION as a comprehensive and enhanced guided pathway intended to improve baccalaureate completion for the more than 8,000 Miami Dade College students interested in a STEM degree. Currently, the teams are building the first prototype of the interactive pathway to test with learners throughout the summer and fall 2020.

Township High School District 211, William Rainey Harper College + Northern Illinois University

The Illinois team set out to create a seamless business transfer pathway for a growing population of first-generation and underserved students, including a large number of Latinos. Their unique partnership enabled the team to co-design a solution that truly captures the end-to-end educational journey. Their pilot is a streamlined high school through college to work pathway for students interested in earning a business degree. This Business Degree in Three leverages Illinois Power of 15 programs for students interested in completing a bachelor’s degree in one of NIU’s five different Business pathways. Team Illinois is looking to expand their pilot to additional secondary institutions, as well as other four-year institutions in the Chicago land area.

Collin College + University of North Texas

Collin College and the University of North Texas are located in the nation’s top fastest-growing communities with rapidly expanding employment opportunities. The team recognized a need to address the number of undecided and newly decided students to complete a bachelor’s degree and address the rapidly evolving business environment. The team’s pilot, the Fast-Track Business Degree, is a supported degree path that streamlines business prerequisite courses for students with an AA/AS from Collin College. After the first year of piloting the new program, the team continues to explore new ways to engage learners and expand the “fast-track” model to other Bachelor degrees. 

Northern Virginia Community College + George Mason University

George Mason University (Mason), Virginia’s largest public university, graduates more transfer students than first-time freshmen. Every year, 3,000 students transfer to Mason from Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA), the second-largest community college in the country.  The team’s pilot, VANCE, is a technology-enabled tool to help advisors and faculty better support their students in their new ADVANCE program. Phase 1 of the pilot launched in fall 2019. The learnings from Phase 1 resulted in more meaningful conversations between advisors and students, as students used early technology and FAQ pages to get answers to their most “common” questions.  After a successful Phase 1, the VA team is looking at resources, both technical and human, to move the pilot into Phase 2. Ultimately, VANCE will fully support students 24/7 with accurate, timely, responsive, and personalized information. 


Seamless Transfer Pathways: Student-Centered Solutions to Improve Transfer Success

This paper provides insights and descriptions about the design process up to the pilot selection phase. of each of the four teams: Miami Dade College and Florida International University; Township High School District 211, Harper College, and Northern Illinois University; Collin College and University of North Texas; and Northern Virginia Community College and George Mason University.

From Kick-Off to Pilot Launch

Design Challenge

The Seamless Transfer Pathways cohort takes on the design question: How might community colleges and four-year universities dramatically improve transfer and baccalaureate attainment rates by reframing the end-to-end experience from the student’s point of view?

Gallery Walk + Ideation

Using a Gallery Walk, a design methodology, the Seamless Transfer Pathways cohort drew insights from the student experience to inform personas and design criteria that would guide early concepts for transfer success.

Forming a Pilot

Over two years, Education Design Lab facilitated four pairs of two- and four-year institutions through a design process and provided access to subject matter experts, coaches and design specialists to help teams develop transformative transfer solutions. Pilots launched in Fall 2019, with results tracked for the next six years.

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