Up to 80 percent of students attending community college in the United States say they plan to earn a bachelor’s degree. In reality, however, only 13 percent of them actually manage to receive that degree six years later, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Part of the problem is that only 30 percent of community college students succeed in transferring to a four-year institution.
Buffalo State College is working with SUNY Erie Community College to improve those numbers through a new transfer alliance. The two schools are among 30 institutional teams that were selected nationwide to participate in the first cohort of the Aspen-AASCU Transfer Student Success and Equity Intensive that began last November and runs through October 2022.
Created by the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) Division of Academic Innovation and Transformation, the initiative is designed to improve transfer students’ transition, success, and graduation rates.
“We’re looking at improving the student transfer experience across a number of dimensions—first by prioritizing that transfer students play a vital role in our new student enrollment each semester,” said David Loreto, director of Buffalo State’s Undergraduate Admissions Office. “We’re looking at demographics, persistence, and retention outcomes and how they compare with their peers.”
Since December, senior leadership in Enrollment Management, Academic Affairs, and Academic Advising from Buffalo State and SUNY Erie have taken part in monthly workshops focusing on best practices for ensuring transfer student success.
“This initiative has strengthened our partnership with Buffalo State,” said Erikson Neilans, vice president of enrollment management at SUNY Erie. “One of the benefits of this project is that it has enabled us to have a dedicated time to work toward our shared goals. Our academic departments are actively collaborating to revitalize transfer student success. We’re developing specific actions steps and aligning them with our strategic goals.”
Already, Buffalo State has implemented support for transfer students, such as its Transfer Promise Program, which allows students to transfer to Buffalo State within a year after starting at one of four community colleges in Western New York, including SUNY Erie. Another resource is Transfer Transitions, an optional 1-credit course designed to help transfer students acclimate to campus.
Loreto pointed to a three-pronged approach to achieve better outcomes:
- Prioritize transfer student success at the strategic and operational levels on both partner campuses.
- Create clear program pathways to keep students on track from their associate’s degree at SUNY Erie to their bachelor’s degree at Buffalo State.
- Provide tailored transfer student advising to ensure that students have access and support on degree choice, career exploration, and coursework selection before and after transferring.
“We’ve already begun working on renewing and, in some cases, establishing program pathways with our top transfer programs at SUNY Erie,” Loreto said, noting that Amitra Wall, Buffalo State associate provost, has led meetings of department chairs at SUNY Erie and Buffalo State to review and update the program pathways.
“The goal of this work is to establish regular and routine processes for aligned academic units to share course expectations and curriculum updates, and address transfer academic articulation hurdles,” Loreto said.
Carol DeNysschen, newly appointed dean of the School of the Professions, who most recently served as chair of the Health, Nutrition. and Dietetics Department, collaborated with her counterparts at SUNY Erie to ensure that students can make a seamless transition to Buffalo State in either the dietetics or the health and wellness program.
“We’ve revised our curriculum significantly over the past couple of years, and we want to make sure [our courses] correlate with the courses SUNY Erie requires of its students,” she said. “We’re trying to make it so that students take all the prerequisites prior to coming here and just slide right into their junior year. We’re excited because these students are passionate about the degree programs.”
In addition, to help understand challenges students face, Buffalo State’s Undergraduate Admissions staff members have held focus groups with students who recently transferred from SUNY Erie.
Loreto noted that data assessment thus far shows that students who complete an associate’s degree at SUNY Erie are more likely to transfer to Buffalo State than any other four-year college.
“We’re also seeing that students from SUNY Erie have better first-semester persistence, retention, and graduation rates that exceed our entire transfer cohort,” he said, “yet there are still equity gaps that need to be addressed through our partnership.”