Learning Objectives & Outcomes

After completing this module, participants will be able to:
  • Define the need for improving transfer outcomes and bachelor’s attainment for community college students.
  • Identify and understand good sources for key metrics for analyzing transfer student success.
  • Discuss and plan for the implementation of essential strategies to improve transfer outcomes.
  • Examine practices used by successful community colleges and four-year institutions to improve transfer outcomes.
  • Describe and discuss future challenges and next frontiers for improving transfer outcomes.

Module Overview

As four-year college costs grow and states decrease their contributions to higher education, tuition for a four-year education is escalating. With these higher costs have come diminished enrollments at many regional public and less selective private institutions. At the same time, selective colleges are increasingly being criticized for being “bastions of privilege” rather than “engines of opportunity.”[1] Both four-year colleges as well as students and policymakers are looking to community colleges to address these challenges. Many advocate for having students begin at a community college, then transfer to a four-year college, thus saving money but still earning a bachelor’s degree within four years. In theory, it sounds like a win-win.

In practice, however, it isn’t so easy. While more than 80 percent of community college students indicate a desire to transfer, only 14 percent successfully transfer and complete a bachelor’s degree within six years.[2] Today’s transfer processes impede student success. They are generally far too uncertain and complex, and reflect a lack of trust and major differences in culture between two- and four-year colleges. Even so, a number of two- and four-year colleges have made transfer work at scale—and we believe their methods are replicable. In 2016, the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program and the Community College Research Center (CCRC) published The Transfer Playbook: Essential Practices for Two- and Four-Year Colleges. This playbook—based on the practices of six sets of community colleges and universities that, together, serve transfer students well—lays out strategies and practices that community colleges and universities can implement at scale in order to improve transfer and baccalaureate completion outcomes for students. The practices in the The Transfer Playbook have been translated into assessment tools that two- and four-year colleges can use to assess the extent to which they are engaged in practices that align with top-performing transfer partnerships.

This module defines the transfer problem, takes participants through the process of analyzing institutional transfer data, introduces the strategies and practices from The Transfer Playbook, and gives participants the opportunity to plan for implementation at their colleges while anticipating potential roadblocks. Throughout the module, readings and activities focus on the president’s role in improving transfer and baccalaureate completion outcomes for students.

Note: For guidance on developing transfer workshops for college teams–rather than for individual leaders–we encourage facilitators to refer to Tackling Transfer: A Guide to Convening Community Colleges and Universities to Improve Transfer Student Outcomes (2017), a publication co-created by the Aspen Institute, CCRC, Public Agenda, and Sova. Related materials can be accessed here.

[1] Bowen, W. G., Kurzweil, M. A., Tobin, E. M., & Pichler, S. C. (2005). Equity and excellence in American higher education. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press.

[2] Jenkins, D., & Fink, J. (2016). Tracking transfer: New measures of institutional and state effectiveness in helping community college students attain bachelor’s degrees. Community College Research Center, Aspen Institute, & National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Retrieved from http://ccrc.tc.columbia.edu/publications/tracking-transfer-institutional-state-effectiveness.html



  • Complete the Tool for Assessing Progress Toward Adoption of Essential Transfer Practices for Community Colleges
    (available for download here: http://highered.aspeninstitute.org/tackling-transfer-accompanying-materials/ ). Ideally, participants will complete the assessment tool with the support of a
    diverse team from their college, perhaps including deans and faculty members in key transfer program areas,advising and other student services deans or directors, transfer advisors, and financial aid advisors.
  • Gather institutional transfer and baccalaureate completion data using the report templates available on the Tackling Transfer Accompanying Materials page: http://highered.aspeninstitute.org/tackling-transfer-accompanying-materials/ .
  • Interview five to eight students (either one-on-one or in a focus group) who intend to transfer next year. Participants should take care to select a cross-section of students from different disciplines and degrees of engagement with the college (not just student leaders). Participants should ask them the following questions, and bring their answers to the first session:
  1. Have you selected your major? When did you select your major? Whom did you speak with when selecting your major?
  2. Do you know which university you will be transferring to? When did you decide? What was the process for making that decision?
  3. How many more credits do you need in order to graduate with your bachelor’s degree? How do you know?
  4. Do you know which of your credits will transfer? Do you know how many of your credits will transfer to your major? Which courses will count? How do you know? Who helped you find that information?
  5. Do you know the cost of tuition at your transfer destination? How do you know?
  6. Who at this college has helped you prepare to transfer?


Module Outline