“Meeting face-to-face for a whole day made a tremendous difference,” said Patricia Parker, project director for Transfer Virginia.
Parker says she was thrilled at the enthusiasm and commitment she witnessed when 250 educators from more than 60 Virginia institutions gathered in Staunton March 15 for a “Call to Action” to improve the transfer process for students navigating the often complex opportunities between the two-year colleges and Virginia’s senior institutions.
Barriers that hamper successful transfer did not pop-up overnight; instead they developed as colleges sought to help different pockets of students.
“We have very independent and different universities, and over the years they developed different articulation agreements with individual community colleges,” said Sharon Morrissey, VCCS’s senior vice chancellor for academic and workforce programs. “Those differences have become a huge issue for students.”
The fact is that most students who enter community college with the intent to transfer to a four-year school fail to earn their bachelor’s degrees.
Families could save thousands of dollars if students would earn their associates degree at a community college before making the transfer. But many fail to do so, or end up taking courses for which they don’t get full credit at the senior college, and end up paying for an extra semester of college.
Virginia lawmakers took note of the issue and in 2018 mandated reforms, which gave rise to Transfer Virginia.
“The problems are complex and hard to solve,” added Parker, “there is so much going on in higher education right now, everyone is suffering from some level of ‘initiative fatigue.’ But what I heard in Staunton is that it is the right time and right thing to do – I heard real commitment to believing in the ‘we can’ make transfer work better for Virginia.”
“You may have faculty members at a university who think that the community college courses are not up to their standards,” said Morrissey. “And then you put them in a room together and they start sharing. They talk about their syllabus, about the textbooks they use, about the learning outcomes in their courses. And the university faculty realize that the community college faculty really are on top of their game. The Community College faculty may tweak their courses a little bit to make them align better with the university courses. So that’s where the magic happens.”
“It’s not just the people in this room,” said Joe DeFilippo, director of academic affairs and planning at the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV). “We speak to the presidents of the colleges and they endorse this effort. They see the problem, too, and they want transfer students to be more successful. So this is really a bottom all the way up to the top commitment.”
Reflecting the scope of the challenge, Transfer Virginia is a commitment to change, with goals including:
• Improved communication and collaboration among institutions of higher education
• Better alignment of academic expectations at two-year and four-year schools
• Development of clear pathways to help guide students from high school through higher education, with degree attainment as the goal
• Streamlined transfer and improved guaranteed admission agreements
• Development of an online transfer portal to serve all students
“It’s critically important to remember that the changes you make at the institutional level and statewide in Virginia can have a positive impact on students in the real world,” said Josh Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program, one of the partners in Transfer Virginia. “Research shows that the size, location, and wealth of your community college do not predict transfer success. What does matter are the concrete actions leaders, policymakers, and practitioners take on behalf of students.”
“We’ve got a lot of work to do before we can even think about implementation,” said Parker. “I think we need the next year to resolve foundational pieces like course development, transfer guidelines, articulation maps – certainly with implementation in mind. The hope is by next spring we’ll have the structures and foundations developed and be ready to come back together and focus on implementation.”
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