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A “How To” Guide to Effective Transfer Pathways

While a large majority of community college students aspire to a bachelor’s degree, only 14 percent will earn one within six years. But that deeply disappointing overall statistic hides a lot of variation: in some contexts, the pathway through two-year and four-year colleges to a bachelor’s degree is a much easier one. Often, the difference is not the students themselves or the resources, but how institutions work with students and one another, and the priorities to which resources are allocated.

If more institutions acted like the most successful institutions, many students would benefit. In some cases, there may be a lack of will to make the kinds of changes necessary. But surely in many other cases the barrier is a lack of know-how.

Yesterday, the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program and the Community College Research Center (CCRC) of Teachers College released an important resource that takes a big step toward filling the gap in know-how. The Transfer Playbook: Essential Practices for Two- and Four-Year Colleges presents practical, research-based guidance, aimed at leaders of both community colleges and four-year colleges, for improving transfer pathways. The playbook covers three main strategies: how to prioritize the needs of transferring and transfer students, how to design clear programmatic pathways, and how to keep students on track with proactive advising. Recognizing that the first step is often the most difficult, the playbook also includes a check-list for institutions just getting started.

My colleague Liz Davidson and I are pleased to have been able to contribute to the playbook—Ithaka S+R was engaged to help organize and edit the playbook to make it even more accessible and useful to practitioners, its target audience. Our task was made much easier by the excellent material assembled by our colleagues at Aspen and CCRC and by the great working relationship with those groups.

Putting this information into the public domain is a critical step in the right direction. Now, the task is for institutions to take up these practices, and for organizations like Aspen, CCRC, and Ithaka S+R to help.

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