Nothing about higher education is the same as it was before the COVID-19 pandemic began. This includes transfers, which have seen a dramatic rise in interest since March.
Students are faced with difficult choices, from evaluating on-campus safety to whether it is worth the price of tuition for online-only classes. Many are considering attending a local school and transferring those credits back when the health crisis is more controlled.
While there is no right answer, transfer has undeniably become a key pivot point in enabling many students to continue their degree and credential pursuits during COVID-19.
Here, eCampus News sits down with John Panzica of CollegeSource to shed some light on one of the latest higher-ed developments to arise from COVID-19.
How are student transfer decisions different – and possibly more complex – given COVID-19?
One of the most significant outcomes of the upheaval caused by the pandemic is an expected increase in transfers and a change in the way students use their local community colleges as an interim measure. In response, four-year institutions need to become more flexible, efficient and consistent with the way they process transfer requests.
Currently, there is relatively low friction between community colleges and their in-state public universities. Many states offer acceptance at their four-year institutions upon completion of 60 credits at the community college level, along with a satisfactory GPA.
The same can’t be said for private institutions. The credit articulation process continues to be time-consuming, manual and inconsistent, often resulting in denying students credit for courses they’ve taken elsewhere. Students who take summer classes at their community college are frequently disappointed to learn that those credits won’t transfer. Because the process is so slow, students don’t often find out whether transfer credits will carry over at their new school until well into the semester.
Are institutions able to respond quickly to the influx of more transfer credit requests?
Although many higher education institutions have adopted technologies that facilitate the transfer process, the progress toward articulation agreements has been slow. Now, with the pandemic-induced disruption of education nationwide, change needs to happen as quickly as students are altering their college plans.
Flexibility is the watch-word for the COVID-era. Campus re-opening decisions are changing by the week, often reflecting shifting conditions on the ground. To hedge against this uncertainty, students need flexibility around where they can take courses and what will count toward their degree. It’s to the institution’s advantage to make it much easier for students to articulate credits taken elsewhere in order to retain that student for a final degree.
Technology platforms are streamlining this process with workflows, automation and comprehensive databases of course catalogs from participating schools. These transfer evaluation platforms have already reduced the amount of time it takes faculty members to determine an equivalency and approve credit – giving students ample time to decide whether to enroll.
Particularly now, how critical are flexible transfer options in helping students continue their degree pursuits?
Students whose studies have been interrupted by the pandemic may not be able to complete their degrees in four or even five years. This is especially the case where economic disruption has caused hardship on their families, and they need a lower cost alternative. Students need higher visibility into whether credits taken elsewhere will transfer, and they’re going to want schools to support these alternatives. Ultimately, as students can stay on track toward their majors, institutions benefit from increased retention and completion.
Many schools are going to see transfer requests from institutions they ordinarily wouldn’t, as students explore avenues that are less expensive and closer to home. While the “feeder” school process is fairly mature, more elite institutions will likely start seeing a reverse or lateral process.
Why do students, advisors and parents need access to open transfer networks?
Participation in an open transfer network becomes even more important for consistency in articulating credits amid increasing fluidity. Degree attainment itself might evolve, with more emphasis on the outcome rather than whether classes were taken in a particular order, online or in-person. An academic plan could potentially include summer classes, transfer credits, online learning and work experience all factoring into the equation.
The days of closed transfer networks may be over. Students are demanding alternatives, especially if they are being asked to pay full-priced tuition for online classes. The pandemic could quickly usher in a new way of thinking about academic plans, where students have access to a wider set of resources for degree attainment. As many institutions face insolvency, embracing and communicating these options may place them ahead of schools that cling to traditional practices around transfer evaluation and educational outcomes. Otherwise, the next few years could prove to be as disastrous as the pandemic itself.
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