Georgia State University undergraduate students get on the stage at the 2018 commencement ceremony at Georgia State Stadium in Atlanta on May 10, 2018. The university had 2,638 transfer students last fall, more than any other University System of Georgia institution. Kennesaw State University was a close second, with 2,347 transfer students. (REANN HUBER/REANN.HUBER@AJC.COM)
Photo: Reann Huber
Photo: Reann Huber

The pathway to graduation is difficult for many transfer students

About 500 educators and staff recently visited Atlanta to brainstorm ways to help an overlooked segment of college students: transfer students.

A 2017 report to Congress by the federal Government Accountability Office highlighted a problem many face, particularly when enrolling in a four-year college or university. A significant percent of students’ credits are not accepted by their new school, making it more difficult to graduate. On average, students lost 43 percent of their credits, the GAO found during a five-year stretch.

Making up those credits is costly. The GAO found “schools often do not offer the same amount of institutional aid to transfer students compared to first-time, non-transfer students.”

Goodness, the transition is daunting. The National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students (NISTS), which is based on the University of North Georgia’s Dahlonega Campus, spent three days exploring ideas at the InterContinental Buckhead hotel.

About one in three students transferred from one school during a recent six-year stretch, the GAO reported to Congress, so we’re not talking about a small number of students. More than 16,000 University System of Georgia students are transfers, according to state data.

So why are transfer students losing so many of their credits?

One reason is many four-year institutions don’t value credits from the two-year schools. They’re seen as “less academically rigorous or more technical in nature than credits earned at the 4-year school,” according to the GAO report.

Another challenge is many students at two-year schools get little or no advice about what courses will be useful at four-year institutions.

Additionally, some community college systems and four-year systems in the same state don’t share information about what academic credentials are required by the four-year schools. The University System of Georgia and Technical College System of Georgia updated their completion plan in 2012, according to one study.

A team of researchers looked at the transfer process in Georgia and nine other states for a report completed in May 2016. They concluded the two systems here could communicate a little better and all states should develop data to better monitor how many credits students lose when transferring.

The study quotes an unnamed Georgia official saying “I don’t have that right now” regarding data to completely determine how many credits transfer students are losing.

Emily Kittrell, assistant director of the NISTS, told a campus publication one goal of the conference was to make sure more two-year colleges and four-year universities to work together to create transferrable courses that fit bachelor degree requirements. “Degree pathways” is a term educators use to describe the process.

“We don’t want students to waste time and money taking classes that won’t transfer or count toward their intended degrees,” Kittrell said. “Pathways are one way to help them build momentum and get their degree efficiently.”

Janet Marling, NISTS director, said, “Transfer is a vital mechanism for closing the equity gap in higher education and providing transfer professionals the opportunity to learn from one another is critical to advancing the field, and by proxy, student success. The NISTS conference challenged attendees’ to examine their transfer lenses – assumptions, attitudes, and expectations about transfer – and reach beyond individual job descriptions to champion a holistic and intentional transfer student experience for the more than 1 million transfer students attending US colleges and universities.”

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