Event Recap: College Transfer Policies, Practices, and Research Supporting Successful Transitions from Two- to Four-Year Degree Programs

On April 7th, the Research Alliance for New York City Schools and Graduate NYC hosted a forum exploring college transfer policies, practices, and research within the CUNY system. The event brought together students, faculty, administrators, researchers, and others to share ideas across roles and institutions (including two- and four-year colleges, community organizations, and high schools) about how to better support students through the transfer process.

In her introductory remarks, Dr. Vita Rabinowitz (Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and University Provost, CUNY) cited support for transfer students as a central aspect of CUNY’s mission to create multiple pathways to higher education.

Indeed, in 2014, transfer students comprised half of incoming undergraduate students at CUNY senior and comprehensive colleges. The forum brought the voices of these students into the transfer policy discussion through the reflections of Josué Pierrette and Stephen Icaza, who each shared their experience transferring from a CUNY community college to a four-year school.

A panel of CUNY college presidents—Karen Gould (Brooklyn College), Farley Herzek (Kingsborough Community College), Gail Mellow (LaGuardia Community College), and Félix Matos Rodríguez (Queens College)—echoed Dr. Rabinowitz’s call for more attention to the needs of transfer students. The presidents highlighted logistical challenges to supporting transfer students—such as accommodating students who enter senior colleges at different times, with different academic experiences and goals, and a wide variety of personal situations—as well as cultural challenges emerging from the outdated notion that most college students fit into the mold of recent high school graduates entering a four-year school.

The panelists also discussed promising strategies for supporting transfers. President Gould reflected on the successes of Brooklyn College’s transfer center, and President Herzek pointed to recent changes in the University of California system as a model to learn from. Presidents Mellow and Matos Rodríguez both called for increased use of data and evidence to identify the needs of particular groups of students (e.g., from different sending institutions, in different programs and classes, etc.), rather than relying on anecdotes about transfer students writ large. Some of the presidents also cited the potential of the CUNY Pathways initiative, which aims to align coursework across CUNY schools, for helping to ease the path toward graduation by maximizing the number of credits transfer students can carry to a new campus.

Following the panel, attendees delved deeper into transfer-related topics through informal breakout discussions. Participants shared practical strategies for supporting students through the transfer process, such as making sure students know the academic requirements of four-year schools as early as possible; nurturing cohorts of transfer students to create a sense of community; and training advisors and other staff to anticipate and respond more effectively to transfer students’ needs. Many of the ideas shared, themes addressed, and questions raised about possible areas for future work are summarized here.

“Today’s forum was the beginning of a conversation, among educators, researchers, and others, exploring strategies that hold promise for helping transfer students graduate—both at individual colleges, and system-wide,” said Dr. James Kemple, Executive Director of the Research Alliance for New York City Schools. “I am grateful to the CUNY presidents, all of the other speakers and participants, and Graduate NYC for candidly tackling this complex issue. And I am excited to continue working together to build evidence in this important area.”