According to the authors of a new report by higher education consultancy Ithaka S+R, one way to reduce equity gaps in higher education is to increase bachelor’s degree completion rates for students. transferred to community colleges.
The authors, however, call it an “underused but essential” pathway. Statewide initiatives to strengthen transfer pathways between these public two-year colleges and their private, nonprofit four-year counterparts, they said, are one option to help do that to large scale.
Ohio is already working on that front. This includes last summer’s announcement where 14 of the state’s private colleges announced plans to work with 10 community colleges to streamline the transfer process. This comes as the pandemic has amplified the enrollment challenges that many colleges in the state were already facing.
Julia Karon, analyst at Ithaka S+R and lead author of “Playbook for Transfer Pathways to the Liberal Arts: How to Design and Implement Statewide Pathways from Community Colleges to Independent Colleges,” spoke with Crain’s Cleveland Business about the recommendations which have just been published.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Let’s start with an overarching question: why is it important to develop better pathways statewide?
Ohio State already has excellent transfer pathways from public community colleges to public four-years in the state, so expanding those pathways to private institutions only gives students more options to complete their bachelor’s degree. . It benefits everyone. More college graduates lead to more educated employees, which improves the economy of the state, so it’s really a win-win situation for everyone.
Independent and community college professors, as well as some community college leaders, responded to a survey you sent. What were some of those takeaways?
Especially at the community college level, we received many responses noting that leaders and faculty truly want the best for their students. They understand that expanding pathways to independent colleges gives their students more options that can set them up for success.
Some challenges have also been overcome. The main thing is simply that doing this intensive transfer work takes time, it takes resources, so teachers want to be sure that their time is paid for, that they are really involved in the process in a meaningful way.
The Ohio Federation of Independent Colleges has done a very good job of incorporating faculty voices. They create peer-to-peer working groups with community college and independent college faculty, really making sure that faculty feel their voice is heard.
It is so important to involve faculty in the transfer process. They are often the ones who decide which credits can go towards a certain degree.
You also conducted interviews. The manual includes a quote from an Ohio community college staff member who said, “I have appreciated the flexibility and involvement that my private partners have provided…to our students. I believe that some of the audiences I work with could learn from our private partners.” Did you understand what they meant by that?
This staff member was specifically referring to communicating options to students, and in particular accepting credits, private institutions have really done a great job of being flexible with how many credits students can transfer and the time it takes them to complete that degree.
Besides incorporating the voices of faculty, what are leaders here in Ohio doing right?
We talk about this in the playbook, when choosing the goals for your initiative, you really want to involve not only your member institutions, but also community colleges, the public sector, legislators. There are so many stakeholders involved.
OFIC (The Ohio Foundation of Independent Colleges) has done a great job not only contacting member institutions, but also surveying community colleges and conducting focus groups with independent college and community college staff to determine the main transfer paths they wanted to follow, what should be the objectives of their initiative.
They also did a great job reaching out to ODHE (the Ohio Department of Higher Education), which was a helpful thought partner throughout the initiative. And they know they can rely on the resources that already exist so they don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
Conversely, of course, what could Ohio do better on this front?
It’s honestly something we’re going to have to figure out. Ohio contracted with the Council of Independent Colleges to evaluate their initiative. And so this evaluation, and our evaluation in the years to come, will show how the initiatives have gone, where are the areas for improvement. This handbook is intended to highlight the practices that states are using so far, but we certainly have more to learn in terms of the effectiveness of these practices.