Back to The State of the South


Published: Jan 26, 2018

Author: Abby Parcell

Contact: Email author

Topics: Education

Transferring Success

Transferrring Success cover image

In this report to the ECMC Foundation, MDC examines transfer practices and experiences at four Southern community colleges, observing how institutional practices, federal and state policies, and student mindset and behavior affect transfer students.

Read the Report



Higher education is a cornerstone of civic and personal advancement in the United States, promising connections with knowledge, skills, and networks that can lead to high-paying work. This system boasts—but does not always deliver—equal opportunity to rise out of poverty and accumulate wealth and build economic security.

Across the country, however, states are struggling to reach goals for bachelor’s degree completion and to improve stalled upward economic mobility, especially for those born into poverty. The problem is particularly stark in the South, where educational attainment lags national averages, income inequality is highest, and the odds of economic mobility are lowest. The chances of moving out of the lowest income bracket increases with a postsecondary credential.

Community colleges have long been important institutions for strengthening postsecondary attainment, awarding credentials that can lead to better paying jobs or additional credentials, including a bachelor’s degree. With lower tuition costs and a pathway to a bachelor’s degree via transfer to a four-year university, community colleges can be launching-pad institutions that change the economic trajectory for individuals and families.

Recent research indicates, however, that ensuring successful student transfer and bachelor’s degree attainment following transfer remains a challenge for both two-year and four-year institutions across the United States.


  • Learn how four colleges are organizing their institutions to support successful transfer and development.
  • Develop recommendations for philanthropic investors, policymakers, and practitioners to strengthen institutional practices that support successful transfer and bachelor’s degree completion.


We conducted interviews and focus groups with college administrators, faculty, staff, and students; reviewed print and online resources, state articulation agreements, transfer-related policies; and conducted an online survey of advising staff.

Report findings emphasize the importance of four themes:

  • Creating a transfer-supportive culture for transfer students
  • Communicating clearly and accurately about transfer opportunities
  • Enhancing cooperation between community colleges and four-year institutions
  • Structuring the student experience to support progress toward transfer

In October 2018, we presented report findings at the North Carolina Community College System annual conference, with Kara Battle, Associate Dean, Arts & Sciences, Durham Technical Community College; Antonio Jackson, Dean of Arts & Humanities at Fayetteville Technical Community College; and Christopher Garner-Quintero, Assistant Director of Advising, Valencia College-Osceola Campus. We polled the advisers, coaches, counselors, transfer office directors, as well as TRIO, SSS, and CTE staff in the audience about their roles and perspective on the transfer-related issues most important to them and their students. Those with advising roles reported caseloads between 100 and 250 students. Sixty nine percent felt that the effectiveness of state-level transfer policy was dependent on the program of study. Sixty-one percent felt that students did not take advantage of campus resources related to preparing for transfer. Participants named the following as issues that students are most concerned about when it comes to transfer: credit requirements and eligibility, finances, timing, and making friends at the new institution. Our college presenter partners highlighted institutional lessons learned from implementing a variety of transfer supports, such as guaranteed admission programs, on-campus workshops, and technology that supports both advisers’ and students’ transfer goals.


Our recommendations are:

  • Frame transfer success as a tool for upward economic mobility. Have a clear transfer message and stay on message. Provide professional development about the transfer process that includes cross-training of all departments that play a part, no matter how small.
  • Foster colleagueship across two-year and four-year institutions through planning together, making decisions together, and learning together. Face-to-face and shared professional development for faculty and advisors of two- and four-year institutions improves information sharing and establishes relationships that can help students facilitate relationships of their own
  • Involve students in the design of transfer pathways and supports. Ask the people who use the system how it really works—it may reveal surprising glitches or work-arounds that ought to become standard practice.
  • Consider students’ external experiences when designing internal transfer policies and programs. Evaluate how policies and practices—everything from to course maps to class schedules to lab requirements—may be misaligned with students’ enrollment decisions, family, and employment obligations.
  • Measure what matters for your institution and your students. The complex nature of student transfer requires innovation. Consider indicators that take into account where students start with respect to academic factors and economic characteristics and how they progress over time.


For more information, contact Program Director Abby Parcell at [email protected].

Published: Jan 26, 2018

Author: Abby Parcell

Contact: Email author

Topics: Education