Creating a Best Practices Guide for Transfer Student Support
Katy Bradford and Marisa Cargill, Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C)
Why is it important to establish best practices for transfer services at your institution? Learn about how the creation of a Transfer Center Best Practices Guide has helped Cuyahoga Community College provide better student support through consistency, collaboration, and innovation.
Guidance in an Uncertain Time
As people all over the world continue to adapt to our current global health crisis, it is more crucial than ever to find ways to support community college transfer students. Uncertainty has become one of the only constants, and our students are facing unknowns in every aspect of life. Although the COVID-19 pandemic is changing the entire higher education landscape, those of us who are fortunate enough to endure in our roles as support staff and administrators have an obligation to maintain continuity in our service to students. On top of preexisting obstacles, students are now dealing with the added pressures of illness, financial insecurity, and lack of childcare. Despite these overwhelming challenges, many are still looking ahead to the future and wish to continue planning for transfer to a four-year institution.
Our work on an institutional Transfer Center Best Practices Guide began long before the current crisis, but it has proven useful during these uncertain times. In just a few short (long?) months, the pandemic has taught us many lessons about the importance of innovation. Having a pre-established baseline of consistent best practices has allowed us to more quickly adapt our services and find timely, accessible ways to meet student needs. While we can’t claim to have figured out all the secrets to transfer success, we want to share what we’ve learned so far in the hope that it will inspire our fellow transfer champions to document and implement their own institutional best practices.
History of Transfer Centers at Tri-C
Our institution, Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C), is the oldest and largest public community college in Ohio. We have four campus locations and several satellite facilities that serve more than 50,000 (credit and non-credit) students annually. About 40% of our students are pursuing associate of arts (AA) and associate of science (AS) degrees designed for transfer. Transfer is a part of the Tri-C mission statement, and we have articulation agreements with more than thirty institutions both in and out of state. All four campus locations offer Transfer Centers that provide transfer support services to incoming and outgoing students.
The first Transfer Center began at our Metropolitan Campus (Cleveland) in 2014 as a grant-funded program to support transfer between Tri-C and our closest state school, Cleveland State University. After the success of that program, the college decided to provide continued funding for the Transfer Center, with plans to expand the services college-wide. By 2016, Transfer Centers were established at the remaining campus locations. Our institution has a campus-based leadership structure, which means that each Transfer Center has been implemented according to the priorities of that individual campus. This has resulted in four centers with the same name, expected to provide the same services, all reporting to different divisions and without centralized management. While this structure allowed the staff at the centers to make decisions to best meet the needs of students on each individual campus, it also raised a number of challenges related to consistency of services and expectations from leadership.
In just a few years, we have seen dramatic growth in the number of attended student appointments college-wide, going from about 1,000 in AY 2016–17 to over 2,500 in AY 2018–19. Although this growth has slowed somewhat during the pandemic, we are continuing to serve students with virtual appointments. We have had over 1,800 drop-in and scheduled appointments since mid-March when our state began stay-at-home orders. In comparing the same time period between this year and last, we are up 13% in total number of drop-in and scheduled appointments.
One trend we have noticed in working remotely is an increase in drop-in appointments (student-initiated email, phone, and live chat interactions). For the same time period, our drop-ins have increased by 96% since last year, while our scheduled appointments have seen a 18% decrease.
Working in higher education requires that we constantly assess the challenges our students experience so we can better help them navigate or eliminate said challenges. As Transfer Centers were implemented on each campus, we faced a number of “growing pains.” Some of these included navigating concerns about overstepping contractual guidelines of other student service areas as well as building awareness about the transfer difficulties common in our applied associate degree programs.
One major problem we experienced as the Transfer Centers were established was a lack of consistency in services and messages received by students from campus-specific centers. As previously mentioned, consistency in services was not emphasized in the early stages of Transfer Center development on each campus.
As new employees were asked to shadow and train at other centers across the college, we recognized an area for growth. Although we acknowledge that not everyone comes from a multi-campus institution, these circumstances are not unique to us and can happen at single-campus institutions when multiple offices are involved in transfer, such as advising and admissions.
Creating Transfer Access Teams
Given these challenges, the Transfer Center staff as a whole knew that we would need advocates to support our growth and to validate the work we do. Fortunately, as we were experiencing these growing pains, the college had also implemented an updated strategic plan with founding principles of access, equity, and success. We have also been fortunate that transfer is a goal distinctly mentioned in the college’s mission statement. As a result of the new strategic plan, access teams were created for multiple student populations, including a team specifically dedicated to transfer students.
Enter the Transfer Access Team. This team was separate from the actual Transfer Centers, yet included two Transfer Center staff members along with representatives from enrollment, student success, articulation, and faculty. This group met monthly for the entire 2018–2019 academic year to discuss ways to better serve our transfer students and provide greater access to information and assistance. In holding these meetings, we recognized a pattern involving a lack of consistency between campuses, not only in the Transfer Centers but also in how other offices support transfer as well as the differences in support between transfer sending (out) and transfer receiving (in) students.
Compiling a Transfer Center Best Practices Guide
From this group, a Transfer Center Best Practices Guide was born. Members believed it would be beneficial to document the work we were already doing (whether it was happening college-wide or not) and to include tasks and populations we wanted to serve better in order to promote more consistency, support, and access for our students.
In order to create this document, the access team members brainstormed together while also getting input from national transfer research and transfer champions across the college.
A smaller working group from the larger access group compiled the information and created an outline of the main points:
1. Populations Served by the Transfer Center
a. Students: College Credit Plus (high school dual enrollment), new, continuing, returning, transfer-in, transient, and former students
b. Faculty: instructional and counseling
c. Community Members
d. Staff/Other Departments
2. How the Transfer Center Supports Transfer Receiving Students
3. How the Transfer Center Supports Transfer Sending Students
4. How Transfer Centers Carry Out Best Practices (by student need)
a. Appointment Preparation
b. During Appointment
c. Post Appointment
d. Follow-up Appointment
Using this outline, the Best Practices Guide was developed. The transfer access team shared the completed guide with college leaders whom we identified as our transfer champions. We quickly secured leadership support, which was helpful in our goal of presenting the guide to other transfer support areas in the college, like academic deans and advising areas.
After this, the Transfer Centers, with the assistance of leadership/transfer champions, took the Best Practices Guide on a roadshow and presented it to campus-specific groups, including teaching and non-teaching faculty. Reactions to the guide varied by campus and by department. Some celebrated the document as a reflection of the good work already taking place, while others felt that it demonstrated practices bordering on contract infringement. Although not ideal in every sense, these reactions gave us the honest feedback we anticipated and needed.
A major unexpected benefit of the Best Practices Guide was the development of a new relationship with our counseling faculty. Through the creation of this guide, we have established a working group that includes members of the Transfer and Counseling Centers college-wide to build a stronger collaborative relationship. Additionally, we were able to share our guide with the world of academia at the 2020 NISTS Conference in Atlanta earlier this year. (Watch the session on the NISTS YouTube channel!) We found power in documenting our work, sharing with many others, and seeking feedback before taking the next steps.
Leadership support for the Best Practices Guide has provided a sense of empowerment for our department. We are now proudly able to represent our work and serve students knowing that our practices have been documented and approved at the highest levels. Since the creation and implementation of the guide, collaboration has continued to grow among the Transfer Centers, and consistency is now a standard part of every conversation.
Where we were once functioning in campus-based silos that often resulted in duplication or inconsistency of work, we are now operating much more fluidly as a cohesive unit. Each Transfer Center is still focused on meeting the needs of its individual campus and students, while simultaneously sharing information, updates, and feedback with their counterparts. In addition to meeting monthly, we have also established project leads to represent our interests college-wide on topics such as web presence, communications, marketing materials, and event planning.
Removing Additional Barriers to Student Progress
Now that we are all working in the virtual world, we have taken additional steps to eliminate even more barriers for students. Developments since the start of the pandemic include:
implementing an online, college-wide appointment scheduling system;
offering virtual appointments by phone and WebEx;
having staff availability through Live Chat during all business hours;
creating a new, student-friendly Transfer Center website; and
communicating daily via WebEx Teams for additional student support and issue resolution.
In addition, we’ve continued to offer our students a chance to connect with external advisors (from four-year partner schools) by phone or video chat—a service that is typically offered on campus. While we would traditionally offer a campus-based schedule of external advising appointment opportunities, this summer we’ve chosen to offer one college-wide schedule of virtual appointments. Moving outside the physical walls of our campuses has required an innovative, teamwork-oriented approach that is centered on student needs.
Developing Your Own Best Practices Guide for Transfer Students
A key finding for us in this process—and what we hope to share with you—is that the Best Practices Guide can be used as a training tool to help build more consistent practices and thorough transfer support at any institution. We strongly encourage you to document your current work to inform others, both internally and externally, of how your office serves transfer students. This process is also helpful as you reflect on the work you would like to add (or subtract) from your list. You will find a link to our guide below. If you find our guide to be helpful in developing practices at your own institution, please remember that it was developed with the foundations of access, equity, and success and with the guidance of national transfer best practices.
Although no one could have prepared us fully for the effects of COVID-19 on higher education, we recognize that the pandemic has forced us to provide even greater access for our students. We had the advantage of infrastructure that was already in place to allow for more flexibility in the ways students utilize our services.
As you begin the process of developing a guide at your own school, first determine if there are ways you can be more available to your students. Although we all may feel like pioneers right now, we have learned that students are often more likely to click on a link to schedule a meeting with us, read a text before they read an email, or log in to a chatroom before they pick up the phone to call us. While this may not be true for every single student, our willingness to allow for these methods of communication have helped us remain connected while working remotely.
This guide gave our Transfer Centers the ability to provide a collective voice representing the goals of our office. It has been our experience that many transfer teams at colleges and universities are small and often need outside support to work on improving the transfer student experience. Developing the guide has allowed us to share evidence to continue and/or expand work that we have done. These outcomes can be linked to approval from leadership and acknowledgements from state and national transfer organizations that support this work.
Beyond consistency, the guide provides clarity for others, helping them have a better sense of what happens in the Transfer Centers at Tri-C. We are now better advocates for our students. Our team may be small—and yours may be small too—but our voice has become strong in championing transfer students and our Transfer Centers. We hope that our Transfer Center Best Practices Guide and this post will help you to do the same.
About the Authors
Katy Braford is a Transfer Specialist at the Westshore Campus of Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C), where she helps support students in the transfer journey. Prior to joining Tri-C in 2016, she spent several years working in admission, recruitment, and transfer at four-year universities in Ohio. (Katy.Braford@tri-c.edu)
Marisa Cargill is a Transfer Specialist at the Western Campus of Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C), supporting students as they navigate the transfer process and their academic goals. In addition to her work at Tri-C, she currently teaches master’s students in a counselor education program. Her previous work includes academic, career, personal and crisis counseling at Tri-C, as well as previous experience teaching in counselor education programs at both private and public universities in Ohio, and mental health counseling in clinics at said universities. (Marisa.Cargill@tri-c.edu)
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