Top Takeaways from NISTS: Advancing Transfer Student Success

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The DegreeSight team recently traveled to the NISTS (National Institute of the Study of Transfer Students) in St. Louis with over 750 other attendees to collaborate on how to best advance transfer student success. This year’s theme, “Full Steam Ahead: Leveraging our Wins to Fuel System Change” was particularly fitting as our DegreeSight colleagues learned about national successes that are driving systemic change in the transfer process. Our top three takeaways:

Institutional Support for Transfer Students is Growing, but Resources Still Fall Short

It is undeniable that the transfer student demographic is expanding, prompting institutions to reevaluate their priorities and strategic approaches. Many institutions have established new centers or departments specifically tailored to address various facets of the transfer student experience. These initiatives range from comprehensive one-stop support centers to streamlining backend credit evaluation processes, showcasing a deliberate effort by colleges and universities to cater to transfer students’ unique needs.

Despite these welcome updates, though, there remains a common sentiment that these centers remain under-resourced, hindering their ability to fully meet student needs. Furthermore, while many institutions have articulated goals within their strategic plans to enhance support for transfer students or drive transfer enrollment growth, the question of ‘how’ remains a pressing concern. Institutions may need to brace for the possibility of allocation additional resources to effectively support the transfer demographic and achieve their goals.

Transfer Processes are Overly Reliant on Human Power

It is no secret that transfer students often encounter lengthier enrollment processes than traditional freshmen. While some transfer students may receive quick admission, the enrollment journey is often complicated and time-consuming. In fact, some institutions acknowledged that they continue to evaluate transfer credits well into a new student’s first semester, leading to advising complexities and delays in graduation. This prolonged timeline is a direct result from the significant manual labor needed at every stage of the transfer process.

Consequently, many NISTS attendees sought technological solutions to streamline the transfer process’s more mundane tasks. Whether through Optical Character Recognition (OCR) transcript reading systems or advanced, user-friendly ways for managing articulations and historical credit evaluation decisions, technology is desperately needed to bridge the gaps where human resources fall short. Given the relevant theme of staffing turnover discussed at the conference, attendees were extremely motivated to learn how various technologies could alleviate bottlenecks, mitigate slowdowns, and enhance their ability to manage workloads effectively.

Institutional Knowledge, Practices, and Decisions Should be Well-Documented

One of the most difficult tasks in the transfer process is evaluating credits, particularly unarticulated credits. This typically involves input from multiple departments including Admissions, Registrar’s Offices, Advisors, and Faculty. Due to the interdepartmental nature of this task and its substantial workload, several conference attendees expressed a renewed determination to establish systemic ways to document this knowledge and preserve historical decisions.

Clearly, there are obvious benefits of documenting best practices, but this initiative often takes a back seat due to competing priorities and inefficient systems. However, as numerous attendees shared their struggles with this issue, it became apparent that institutions must prioritize efforts to streamline and maintain articulations and preserve course evaluation decisions. Investing time and resources now will mitigate future headaches and facilitate smoother staff transitions in positions where talent retention can be challenging. 

Despite acknowledging the significant workload involved in improving services for transfer students, it is evident there are champions across the country who are committed to forging a path forward and fostering transfer-inclusive cultures on campus. The National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students (NISTS) stands out as an invaluable resource for any higher education professional looking to transform their institutional practices concerning transfer students and NISTS does an outstanding job bringing together a community of passionate individuals eager to collaborate and address these complex issues directly.

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