The New England Board of Higher Education, a multi-state pact dedicated to supporting higher education in the region, is developing guaranteed transfer pathways in three additional states as part of its New England Transfer Guarantee.

The guarantee, already established in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island last year, allows eligible community college graduates to transfer directly to participating colleges and universities in their states. Students must have earned their associate degrees and met the minimum GPA requirements of state-level transfer agreements and four-year institutions to be eligible.

The initiative will expand to Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont and provide new transfer opportunities, particularly pathways to liberal arts programs, for community college students looking to transfer to public or private colleges. four years in these states, NEBHE announced on Tuesday.

Emily Decatur, senior program manager for transfer initiatives at NEBHE, said barriers to transfer have become a growing concern for higher education leaders in recent years, particularly in New England, where states expect an imminent drop in the number of traditional-aged students. .

“We have kind of an enrollment crisis here in New England, so institutions are looking at ways to enroll more students,” she said. “And some of them have found transfer students to be a possible way to do that, with the added benefit of transfer students bringing this different life experience and diversity to their campuses.”

The New England Transfer Guarantee and its expansion into northern New England is funded by the Teagle Foundation, which supports liberal arts education; the Davis Educational Foundation; and the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation, which funds projects dedicated to “religious, charitable, scientific, literary and educational purposes,” according to the foundation’s website.

The new transfer pathways are expected to be available to students in about two years, though Decatur said the timing is hard to predict. She noted that higher education systems in northern New England have less existing infrastructure for guaranteed transfer pathways, so it may take longer to work with faculty members to ensure that programs allow for smooth transfers between two-year and four-year programs.

The guarantee will now include the campuses of the Maine Community College System, the University of Maine System, the Maine Independent College Association, the Community College System of New Hampshire, the University System of New Hampshire, and the New Hampshire College and University Council , Community College of Vermont and the Association of Independent Colleges of Vermont.

A total of 49 higher education institutions in these states have expressed interest in participating in the New England Transfer Guarantee, including all community colleges and public four-year institutions and 72% of independent institutions in the three states.

Decatur has high hopes for expansion given preliminary data from Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, which implemented the first iteration of the transfer guarantee in the spring of 2021. More than 500 community college students from these States have successfully transferred through the initiative. NEBHE also encouraged participating four-year institutions to offer transfer students special scholarships to make college more affordable, which saved $4.5 million in tuition across the three states. She said community college students too often view private institutions as financially inaccessible.

“Historically, and even currently, there’s just this idea that independent institutions have these very high sticker prices, and students from low-income backgrounds, or who are historically underrepresented minorities or freshmen generation, may feel like they’re closed off even from applying to these institutions,” she said. “But the reality is that a lot of these independent institutions, especially in New England, given all this enrollment crisis that we are facing here…they are really competitive with the public” and willing to offer competitive costs.

Some college leaders said they were eager to see the new guaranteed transfer pathways come to fruition.

Joyce Judy, president of the Community College of Vermont, hailed the initiative as a benefit to her students.

“By creating streamlined and reliable pathways for CCV graduates to earn their bachelor’s degrees, the Transfer Guarantee will increase equitable and affordable access to quality higher education in Vermont,” she said in a statement. hurry.

Janet Sortor, vice president and chief academic officer of the Maine Community College System, noted that ensuring easy transfer could have a particularly big impact in Maine, which recently launched a free community college program for students who graduated. their high school diploma during the pandemic.

“Implementing the Transfer Guarantee in Maine at a time when the state has just rolled out a free community college program will be a real boon for students looking for a bargain on a valuable bachelor’s degree in the Maine,” Sortor said in the same press release. .

Transfer student enrollment rates have fallen 6.9% nationally over the past year and about 16% since the start of the pandemic, according to a report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Upward transfer from two-year to four-year institutions fell 11.6% this spring from a year ago, a worrying trend for higher education researchers.

Mamie Voight, president and CEO of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, said only 31% of community college students transfer to four-year institutions and only 14% of those who transfer earn a bachelor’s degree. within six years.

“There are incredible leaks in the pipeline for students trying to achieve that next level of learning,” she said. “States and institutions working to build these smoother pathways through transfer are critically important to ensuring that all students, but especially students of color and students from low-income backgrounds , who are more likely to start in a community college, have this opportunity to reach a bachelor’s degree.”

IHEP, a policy research and advocacy organization, is currently working with Arizona, Illinois, and Virginia to improve transfer pathways through a project called Transfer BOOST, or Opportunity Options. simple and transparent licensing. This effort is part of the Catalyzing Transfer Initiative, a collaboration among nonprofit organizations to facilitate the transfer process and increase bachelor’s degree completion among underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, led by the Foundation. ECMC, which funds efforts to improve educational outcomes for underserved students.

John Fink, a senior research associate at Columbia University’s Community College Research Center of Teachers College, agreed that the transfer system was broken and inefficient long before the pandemic, and there is a growing national movement at the school level. to remove barriers, partly in response to declining enrollment. He previously co-authored a report titled “Transfer Tracking” and the “Transfer Playbook”, a best practice guide to developing transfer pathways.

Fink said he’s noticed a renewed interest in pathways that help students transfer into a specific field of study and more emphasis on “a collective responsibility for transfer” between community colleges and four-year institutions instead. than letting students determine the transfer process on their own. He also noted that guaranteed transfer pathways can also attract dual-enrollment students interested in clear pathways to a bachelor’s degree in the subjects that interest them.

“People know we have to do something differently because what we’re doing isn’t really working,” he said. “It works for too few students.”

Decatur said transfer barriers are “national and pervasive”. She pointed to a report by the Government Accountability Office, published in 2017, which found that students had lost around 43% of their university credits when transferring.

“It means that students not only waste money and time to graduate, but it also has a definite impact on them psychologically, on motivation and persistence and all these other things,” said she declared. Transfer students have also been this “historically overlooked population, and they don’t get as much support,” like peer counseling or mentoring, while navigating what can be a confusing transition.

“I myself have consulted, given my work, probably thousands of different institutional, state, system transfer websites, and half of them that I can’t really decipher or understand very easily” , she added. “And if I can’t, I can only imagine what it would be like for a student trying to figure out what the transfer process is and what their options are.”

Voight said issues with transfer pathways are at the heart of an equity issue.

“We say that as a field of higher education, it’s an affordable way to get a bachelor’s degree to get started in a community college,” she said. “If we’re going to make that promise to students, we need to make sure we then deliver on that promise by creating these streamlined transfer pathways, especially to support students who have too often been left behind by our higher education system. .”