In Texas, a Statewide Commitment to Transfer

The Texas Transfer Success Conference, held at eight sites across Texas in May 2009, drew more than 1,000 attendees from Texas and international colleges and universities. The purpose of the conference was to discuss strategies and principles for increasing the effectiveness of inter-institutional transfer for students. In Texas, some 80% of bachelor degree holders will earn credits from more than one institution.

The conference was planned and executed by the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students and the UNT Center for Higher Education and funded by a $260,000 contract from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB).

The event featured two nationally-focused presentations, but otherwise focused on regional strategies, data, and partnerships to advance the transfer agenda.

National conference speakers included transfer student success experts John Gardner, Betsy Barefoot and Trudy Bers. Gardner and Barefoot jointly delivered a tone-setting “keynote” presentation in the morning. In the afternoon, Bers shared background data and research on transfer students, concentrating on a campus self-study process called Improving Practitioner Knowledge to Increase Transfer.  The speakers’ remarks were pre-recorded, but the Q&A sessions that followed were live.

Participants were each given a USB drive with approximately 1,000 pages of information for subsequent reference and use.

The conference was a follow-up to the 2008 Texas Presidents and Chancellors Transfer Summit, hosted by THECB and the University of Texas System for the nearly 200 presidents and chancellors of the two- and four-year institutions in the state. The National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students (NISTS) and the University of North Texas Center for Higher Education were contracted to provide background materials and conduct preliminary research. A charge from the summit was to take the messages of successful transfer practice beyond executive offices to the “frontlines” of transfer-student interface and service.

For other recent NEJHE coverage of transfer issues, see Chari A. Leader on The Good Business of Transfer.

In a post-conference survey of participants, more than 80% of respondents said they had the tools necessary to access data on the THECB website, 70% said they had a better understanding of transfer student demographics in their region, and 58% said they would adapt one of the recognized programs/activities to improve transfer student success at their institution. More than three-quarters said they better understood the transfer student experience and how it affects transfer success as a result of the conference.

Best Practices

Another highlight of the Texas Transfer Success Conference was a presentation of the STEP (Successful Transfer Enhancement Programs) Awards, in which about 30 programs were competitively selected for recognition; training in the navigation and utility of relevant state databases; and discussions among participants intended to advance the transfer agenda.

The STEP Awards were a response to recommendations from the summit that the state identify and disseminate “best practices” in transfer. To negate the appearance of bias, entries were judged by out-of-state experts in transfer-student success.  The awards recognized best practices in: enrollment management; academic support services; student services; curricular education; collaborations between two- and four-year institutions; internal collaboration; print communications; and web/multimedia communications

The following are three examples of STEP Award-winning approaches:

The University of Houston at Clear Lake established special scholarships for transfer students. Eligibility requires a 2.75 GPA and nine hours of enrollment, and awards range from $800 to $1,000 a year. No application is required. The scholarship is automatically renewed for a second year if the student earns 18 hours of credit with a GPA that is as good as, or better than, their GPA upon university entry. The program awards $1.2 million in scholarships annually, but university studies concluded that the program pays for itself through more institutional credit hours and student retention at the university.

• The University of Texas at Dallas Comet Connection Program enlisted the expertise of retired community college president Nathan Ivey to visit each of the 50 community colleges in Texas to sign transfer agreements with UTD. These are far more than credit-articulation agreements. Transfer students can sign non-binding agreements about their interest in transfer to UTD, and can lock-in tuition rates for two or more years. They also receive immediate access to UTD advisors, UTD library cards and student access to campus events. Entry to UDT can be deferred for a year.

El Paso Community College (EPCC) and the University of Texas at El Paso are among the institutions in the state that have established “reverse associate degree” programs. Students who transfer to the university without completing the associate degree—and Texas state law and policy largely encourage this—can have credits earned at the university sent back to the community college. At that point, EPCC will issue an associate degree within the community college’s standards. Last spring, EPCC issued some 350 such associate degrees. The program allows for EPCC to increase its graduation rates and for the student to earn an interim and encouraging credential on the road to a bachelor’s degree.

Statewide Transfer

Texas is one of the fastest-growing states in the nation. Between 2000 and 2009, the population grew by nearly 20%, roughly twice the national average. At the same time, the higher education degree completion gap was widening both within Texas and between Texas and other states.  The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) reported that the proportion of 25-year-olds who had completed high school had diminished to the point that, in 2007, Texas ranked behind every state except Mississippi.  Only 5% of the Texas population at that time was enrolled in higher education compared to a national average of 5.4%, representing a need to increase enrollments by 76,000 students.  That increase, though significant, would only take Texas to the national average.  In response to the widening gaps, in 2000, the THECB implemented an ambitious plan calling for Closing The Gaps by 2015.

Closing the Gaps sets specific statewide goals to increase: participation in higher education; success (i.e., certificates, undergraduate degrees and other identifiable student progress from high-quality programs); the number of nationally recognized programs or services at colleges and universities in Texas; and the level of federal science and engineering research and development obligations to Texas. Over the past 10 years. Texas has reached many significant milestones in closing the gaps, but achieving 2015 goals will require additional efforts and focus by all stakeholders.

NISTS and the Center for Higher Education are releasing a monograph, featuring select programs recognized by the STEP Awards, which will be distributed across the country.

About the NISTS

The National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students (NISTS) was established in 2003 by staff at the University of North Texas in response to their growing number of transfer students. The campus, located in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area, is within 50 miles of 22 community colleges, most of which are growing rapidly.

Each year, NISTS hosts two national conferences, awards two research grants, and awards the “Barbara K. Townsend Dissertation of the Year Award.” It is receiving an increasing number of externally funded grants for research in various areas of study surround transfer student success.

With funding from the TG Public Benefit Program, NISTS is researching the efficacy of state transfer policies and programs. The team is conducting qualitative research during site visits to 12 two- and four-year institutions, using in-depth individual interviews and focus groups, as well as quantitative review of relevant university policies and programs. A graduate course on qualitative inquiry is built around the project, providing a source of trained site investigators.

NISTS is developing funding opportunities to impact the return rate of non-degree-completers within the state; facilitate in-depth organizational development to meet the needs of the national higher education agenda on transfer; define transfer in a way that encompasses the multiple institutional paths taken by students; and conduct case studies of best practices and programs.

The NISTS fall conference will be held Sept. 19 to Sept. 21 at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, N.C., and will focus on transfer in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines. The spring conference will be held Jan. 24 to Jan. 26 in Jacksonville, Fla.


Bonita C. Jacobs is executive director of the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students and associate professor of higher education at the University of North Texas.  Marc Cutright is director of the Center for Higher Education and associate professor at higher education at the University of North Texas.


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