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?

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Seamless Transfer Pathways

Student-Centered Solutions to Improve Transfer Success

In Fall 2017, the Education Design Lab (Lab), with funding from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation (MSDF), launched Seamless Transfer Pathways. This two-year design challenge, funded with four years of evaluation, seeks solutions to address the staggeringly low transfer and completion rates among community college students.

This paper provides learnings from the ongoing design challenge, sharing the pilots 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.

an inside look at the design challenge

From Kick-Off to Pilot Launch

Eighty percent of students who enroll each year in a community college aspire to earn a bachelor’s degree. But only 1 in 4 students make the leap to a four-year institution within five years. See how the Seamless Transfer Pathways cohort aimed to address this by exploring the 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?

Design Challenge Kick-off

Forming a Pilot


Beginning in Fall 2017, the Education Design 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 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 six years of transferring. Over two years, the Lab  engaged a cohort of four transfer partnerships in a structured design process, providing the teams access to subject matter experts, coaches, and design specialists to help them develop transformative solutions. The Seamless Transfer Pathways pilots launched in fall 2019 and results will be tracked through 2025.

Seamless Transfer Pathways Cohort

  • 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
Project Updates

Fall 2019
Over the past year, the STP teams worked to iterate on their proposed pilots and plan out individual evaluation plans to help assess the impact of their pilots on operational success and to establish objective measures on the impact the pilots have on their campuses and the target student populations. 

In May 2019, the Lab published a white paper, Seamless Transfer Pathways: Student-Centered Solutions to Improve Transfer Student Success, documenting lessons learned in the design challenge and highlighting the new solutions to be piloted by the four institutional partnerships in Fall 2019. We followed the release of the paper with a national webinar, “Insights to Action: New Approaches to Seamless Transfer on Your Campus,” presented in collaboration with the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students (NISTS). During this session, the four STP teams shared their learnings and reflections on new approaches to designing transfer pathways. Teams also shared out the how they approached institutional change management and how other campuses might apply similar efforts on their own campuses. Video of the webinar can be found here. 

The teams launched their Seamless Transfer Pathways Pilots at the start of the Fall 2019 semester.

Fall 2018
This fall teams are continuing to test and iterate their pilots. It became apparent that each institutional pair needed more time to fine-tune the various features of their pilot and are spending this fall working with faculty, staff, and students to gather additional information necessary for full implementation. Check out the Seamless Transfer Pathways Pilots below:

  • Team Florida
    The pilot: TRANSFERmation- 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.
    TRANSFERmation (early concept)
  • Team Illinois
    The pilot: Business Degree in 3- A streamlined High School through College to work pathway that leverages Illinois Power of 15 programs for students interested in completing a bachelor’s degree in one of NIU’s five different Business pathways.
    Business Degree in 3 (early concept)
  • Team Texas
    The pilot: Fast-Track Business degree- A supported degree path that streamlines business prerequisite courses for students with an AA/AS from Collin College.
    Fast-Track Business Degree (early concept)
  • Team Virginia
    The pilot: Meet VANCE- a technology-enabled tool to enable advisors and faculty to support better students in their new ADVANCE program. VANCE supports students on their time with accurate, timely, responsive, and personalized information.
    Meet VANCE (early concept)

Summer 2018
In May 2018 the Seamless Transfer Pathways cohorts convened at the University of North Texas to share their final concepts and finalize their pilots. Teams participated in several design activities throughout the two days. These activities provided each team with feedback from their cohort peers, as well as, selected subject matter experts who were on hand to push the institutions to think bigger and better for their students. The convening ended with each team selecting the first version of their pilot and sharing out the pilot to all in attendance. After the convening teams returned to their campuses and spent the summer creating work plans for implementation, as well as continued testing on the various features with their students.

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.


Email our Seamless Transfer Pathways team at