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Action plan offers recommendations to improve student transfer in South Carolina

Transfer Task Force Meeting Fall 2022
Task force meeting in Fall of 2022.

In 2021, the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education partnered with the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education and the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association to facilitate a statewide task force to increase excellence in state systems of transfer across all sectors of post-secondary education. More than 40 college transfer experts joined in the work, representing all sectors of higher education: research institutions, four-year comprehensive teaching institutions, technical colleges and independent institutions. 

Following more than a year of detailed analysis, review of current policies and practices within the state, and meaningful collaboration, the task force created an action plan for transfer excellence to improve on-time college completion rates and reduce the time and monetary commitment required to complete a four-year degree. In February 2023, the task force presented the following action plan to maximize transfer student success at institutions across South Carolina.

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Executive Summary

The governor and general assembly of South Carolina are leading a cohesive, unified workforce development approach that will boost the state’s rapidly growing economy. Higher education is a critical system and component for training, educating, and upskilling South Carolinians, so they may earn sustainable salaries and wages for themselves, their families, and the state. Effective, user-friendly transfer policies bolster workforce development with strengthened career pipelines and increased student degree completion, while minimizing time to degree completion.

Transfer policies and articulation agreements provide clear and accessible transitions between and across technical or community colleges and four-year institutions. Transfer impacts students’ abilities to persist and complete college on time, so they can more rapidly enter the workforce, earn a living wage to support their families and communities, and meet the economic needs of the state. Statewide credit transfer requirements ensure all students can transition successfully to work and life. Statewide transfer initiatives are especially helpful for highly mobile students who may move among multiple two- and four-year institutions before degree completion.

Introduced on January 18, 2023, H. 3726 aims to enact the Statewide Education and Workforce Development Act, reaching the workforce potential of the state by coordinating publicly funded workforce development services and ensuring a customer-centric workforce system that is easy to use, highly effective, and simple to understand. Higher education is critical to meeting the state’s demand for skilled and educated employees. An effective, efficient statewide transfer policy and system directly impacts students' ability to persist and earn on-time degrees and credentials. Strong transfer practices support the burgeoning economy and the economic well-being of South Carolinians.

Without state-level guidance, coordination, and investment in the process, transferring earned credits can be resource consuming, unclear, and complicated for students and institutions. Students alone are often not capable of navigating the complex process of inter-institutional mobility. There is a lack of personnel who focus specifically on transfer student needs at the institutional level. Often, students are unable to apply all credits earned from the sending institution to the receiving institution, increasing the cost of school, and delaying their achievement of career and workforce objectives.

SHEEO/Gardner Institute State Transfer Initiative

South Carolina is one of four states participating in a national pilot initiative to develop models for educational excellence in state systems of transfer across all sectors of post-secondary education. This initiative is funded by the Education Credit Management Corporation (ECMC) Foundation, and is being delivered to South Carolina, North Carolina, Colorado, and Washington by two national non-profit organizations: the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO) and the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education (JNGI). This brief summarizes the work of the South Carolina State Transfer Task Force (“ad hoc task force”), including findings and recommendations. This document is the beginning of a long-needed statewide actionable plan that creates a robust transfer, articulation, and general education structure that facilitates student success and completions for the students and industry.

In August 2021, all higher education institutions in South Carolina were invited to join the ad hoc task force. The South Carolina Commission on Higher Education (CHE), SHEEO and the JNGI, facilitated the ad hoc task force, with more than 30 key South Carolina transfer-related personnel from the state’s two-year technical colleges, public four-year colleges and universities, and independent colleges (see Table 1). The task force used an evaluation model comprised of a set of aspirational principles for nearly a year to analyze the transfer and articulation systems and policies in the state, resulting in a statewide action plan. Transfer excellence will improve on-time college completion rates and reduce the time and monetary commitment required to complete a four-year degree. Increased transfer excellence will facilitate student success and support the CHE’s Ascend 60X30 strategy to increase higher education attainment in the state, which was initially developed and endorsed by a diverse group of state leaders prior to the pandemic.

Transfer Conference
State transfer task force meeting in 2022.

The focused work of the ad hoc task force resulted in a set of practices to maximize transfer student success for South Carolinians. The composition of the ad hoc task force represented the state’s higher education faculty and transfer professionals. Priorities were determined by the alignment of 2019 Ascend 60X30 strategy to increase higher education attainment to 60 percent by 2030. The CHE’s commitment to attainment is reinforced by the recent support of our state leaders to determine, measure, and achieve an attainment rate driven by recent workforce development legislation and state agency commitments.

The CHE’s commitment to transfer work remains resolute and unwavering. The CHE and staff collaborated closely with the task force by committing agency and staff resources to support the process and recommendations.

The recommendations presented in this action plan represent the higher education community’s commitment to boost comprehensive and fair educational attainment options that will lead to more economic opportunity for all South Carolinians.

With the CHE as the transfer oversight entity for the state, the following recommendations are proposed for implementation. 

  • Solicit and appoint institutional transfer liaisons at each participating institution, and convene regular statewide meetings for transfer policy development, collaboration, and professional learning.
  • Develop, manage, and curate a robust statewide data system, and provide the CHE with the authority to request data from all participating higher education institutions.
  • Convene a stakeholder group to review and address transfer articulation resources and needs, to include:
    • Improving or replacing of the SC TRAC resource.
    • Developing a matrix to standardize courses for equivalent, transferable, degree-benefiting credit.
    • Developing a process for using common general education learning outcomes to supersede course equivalencies.
    • Establishing common standards for evaluating and awarding credit consistently and with maximum applicability to degrees.
    • Negotiating a statewide articulation among the SCTCS, four-year public institutions, and participating institutions of the SCICU to recognize the A.A. and A.S. degrees as fulfilling baccalaureate general education requirements.
  • Require public and participating independent institutions to ensure students are adequately informed of transfer options and the transfer resources available to them.
  • Develop a plan to facilitate and incentivize reverse transfer.
  • Request state funding to establish student transfer scholarships and statewide awareness campaign for transfer.
Project Overview and Current State Higher Education Transfer Governance

Project Overview

South Carolina is one of four states participating in a national pilot initiative to develop models for educational excellence in state systems of transfer across all sectors of postsecondary education. This initiative is funded by the ECMC Foundation and is being delivered to South Carolina, North Carolina, Colorado, and Washington by two national, non-profit organizations: the SHEEO and the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education (JNGI).

The South Carolina task force for this project, facilitated by the CHE, SHEEO, and the JNGI, is comprised of more than 40 key transfer-related personnel from all sectors of higher education in the state. Task force members committed nearly a year of their time to the improvement of South Carolina’s transfer system. Key responsibilities of the CHE, the project leadership team, and the task force include the following: 

CHE

Project Leadership Team

Task Force

Provide vision and commitment from state-level leadership as approving body of work

Provide policy / subject-matter expertise and lead development of state transfer action plan with recommendations and data analysis

Review existing policies for effectiveness and equity, collect / analyze data, generate state policy standards and recommendations

Specific activities of this project include a state review and comparison using a national transfer framework, surveys to institutions’ staff and students, and an analysis of existing transfer data. The focused work of the task force resulted in recommendations that support equitable practices to maximize transfer student success for South Carolinians. Implementation priorities were determined by the alignment of CHE’s Ascend 60X30 strategy to increase higher education attainment by 2030. After nearly a year of analysis across multiple dimensions, the task force presents this final report with findings and recommendations to facilitate transfer excellence within the state.

Background

Student transfer is a significant topic of concern for higher education. As colleges and universities across the nation are challenged by declining enrollment, as governments and businesses seek to ensure sustained economic vitality, and as economic disparities have sharpened, the need to improve educational outcomes is greater than ever. Nationally, students seeking to transfer often encounter challenges resulting from ineffective transfer pathways. These difficulties can result in unnecessary loss of credit, which costs students both time and money. Traditionally, underserved populations are disproportionately negatively impacted.

Consider the following statistics:

  • Thirty eight percent of all students entering college for the first-time transfer at least once. 
  • Students lose an estimated 43 percent of college credits when they transfer, or an estimated 13 credits, on average. The average credits lost during transfer is equivalent to about four courses, which is almost one semester of full-time enrollment. 
  • Lower-income students are nearly half as likely as their higher-income peers to transfer to a four-year institution (25 percent vs. 41 percent) and fully half as likely to obtain a bachelor’s degree within six years (11 percent vs. 22 percent).
  • Colleges and universities lost about 191,500 transfer students in the 2020–21 academic year, representing a loss almost three times greater than the previous year’s decline of 69,300 students.

According to the Community College Research Center, “The current system, underperforming as it is, works twice as well for white students as it does for Black and Latinx students, and twice as well for higher-income students as for lower-income students.”

In South Carolina, 447,000 residents out of 5.2 million have some college but no degree. The CHE’s Public Agenda aims for sixty percent of the state’s working-age population to hold a high-quality, workforce-relevant credential by 2030. To meet this goal, reform of the state’s transfer ecosystem is required. A statewide comprehensive transfer policy will improve achievement gaps by increasing transfer and completion for underrepresented student populations resulting in a population that is ready to meet the ongoing workforce needs of the state.

CHE Statutory Authority

The General Assembly required the CHE to establish standards and procedures for the transferability of courses at the undergraduate level between two-year and four-year institutions or schools” (S.C. Code of Laws Title 59, Chapter 103, Section 45).

CHE Regulatory Authority

The CHE also promulgates regulations to provide further directions and structure regarding transferability. Proviso 117.152 of the 2021–22 Fiscal Year Appropriations Act required the CHE to work in consultation with the South Carolina Technical College 

System (SCTCS) and the public four-year institutions of higher learning to develop policies to guarantee students who have earned an A.A. or A.S. degree from a public two-year institution of higher learning shall receive a minimum of 60 transfer credit hours at a public four-year college or university and shall be given a junior status at the college or university. At this time, each public four-year institution has incorporated into its transfer policy that each transfer applicant who has earned an Associate of Arts or Associate of Science degree will receive 60 credit hours in transfer and be granted junior status in keeping with the language of Proviso 117.152.

Military Transfer Task Force Initiative

According to the Report on the Economic Impact of South Carolina’s Military Community (June 22, 2022), South Carolina is home to eight major military installations and other military facilities supporting 68,493 Department of Defense personnel of all branches of service and components. Sixty-nine percent are active duty and 31 percent are Reserve Components (National Guard and Army Reserve). South Carolina has three branches of the military where servicemembers start their military journey, in addition to the Navy’s Nuclear Training Center. South Carolina has the 10th highest density of service members in the nation. There are another 17,579 service members who serve just across the border at Fort Gordon, Georgia, with many living in South Carolina. The military community’s presence in South Carolina serves as a reminder of its substantial postsecondary impact. Creating transfer mobility and recognizing experiential learning that can translate military training, experience, and expertise into academic credit will assist service members who plan to pursue postsecondary education and workforce credentials. To support a seamless transfer credit experience for military service members, the CHE established a statewide Military Credit Mobility Task Force in the fall of 2022. Their work will yield high-priority recommendations that support standard practices on evaluating skills and competencies gained during military service and training.

Electronic Transfer and Articulation Database

The CHE sought a course articulation and transfer system to facilitate student transitions between and among South Carolina’s institutions of higher education. In 2009, the CHE contracted with AcademyOne to develop and implement SC TRAC. Funded by the Education and Economic Development Act of 2005 (EEDA), the Commission established and integrated the web-based portal to meet the course articulation and transfer needs of the state. Initially, when the CHE established SC TRAC, it was envisioned to be a clearinghouse for South Carolina institutions of higher learning to support shared processes, formats, and content, and provide the integration services needed to link institutional-based tools and data, so a customized report could be developed with a user-friendly interface. This approach would help the state avoid implementing a one-size-fits all solution for degree audit and advising and enable institutions to support a common set of transfer functions.

Data Considered by the Task Force

The State Transfer Task Force was formed to gain new knowledge about the transfer student experience, to explore transfer pathways between institutions in South Carolina, and to gather valuable information (policies, institutional processes, available resources, etc.) from key stakeholders in the state. The Gardner Institute’s Foundation of Excellence examines the transfer process through six broad dimensions: philosophy/rationale, transfer equity, learning and curriculum pathways, organization, transfer receptive culture/receptivity, and data, accountability and improvement. As part of the evaluation process, the task force reviewed student and staff survey data, statewide transfer data, and data from the administration questionnaire. Using the provided data and other sources of evidence, the task force evaluated the ways South Carolina institutions support the overall transition and experiences of transfer students across the state.

Student and Institutional Surveys

The task force explored the topic of transfer through a series of survey instruments created by the Gardner Institute as part of a larger project. Each institution in South Carolina was asked to deploy two surveys: one for the transfer students currently enrolled at their institution, and one for the faculty and staff who work regularly with transfer students in some capacity (advising, student engagement, campus life, and other relevant areas). The overarching goal of each survey instrument was to gather new or additional details about the transfer student life cycle, available campus resources, and to learn of institutional or campus efforts to improve the transfer process through grants and other funding. Additionally, learning more about the overall success rates for transfer students across the state would help inform the continued work of the task force committees. Please see Appendix D for additional information pertaining to survey data.

State Level Data

Another component of the work of the task force was to evaluate the transfer data provided by the state. As a state agency, the CHE collects a crude amount of institutional data related to transfer. In collaboration with the Gardner Institute, visual diagrams were created to better analyze the transfer patterns across the state. All data visualizations provided a dropdown filter to select cohort year and institution. The data visualizations can also be filtered by the student demographic characteristics of gender and race/ethnicity. Access to the visualizations were made available to the task force and specific institutional staff members. Please see Appendix D for additional information pertaining to visualizations.

Transfer Information 2022 Questionnaire

While the Gardner Institute provided state, institution, and student-level surveys and data, the task force committees determined a need for additional survey questions and developed the Request for Transfer Information 2022 Questionnaire (“Transfer Questionnaire”) for institutions to complete. The questionnaire was designed to provide more detail, guidance, and descriptive information about the institutional policies and procedures. Capturing a greater nuance of detail provided a basis for additional insights to the institutional policies and practices. Please see Appendix D for additional information pertaining to questionnaire results.

Recommendations (Including Discussion and Stakeholder Actions)

Rectifying South Carolina’s systemic deficiencies regarding student transfer requires a willingness to challenge the status quo, upend ineffective paradigms and practices, and remove bureaucratic and institutional barriers that create unnecessary friction for transfer students. Furthermore, to meet the newly created student transfer vision for South Carolina higher education, the task force outlines several recommendations.

Success of the proceeding recommendations is contingent upon a centralized leadership model and designated authority for the state. Coordination of all aspects of transfer in the state would include oversight, coordination, data collection (from both public and participating independent colleges and universities), and reporting (i.e., creating data systems, dashboards, and other dynamic visuals to provide data on transfer activity statewide). The CHE is the logical agency to be empowered to lead in this endeavor. Therefore, it is recommended the CHE be empowered to lead the state in all matters related to transfer in the state, including the implementation of statewide policy on transfer and advocacy for the resources necessary to support a statewide system of transfer excellence.

With the CHE as the transfer oversight entity for the state, the following recommendations are proposed for implementation. 

 

Graphic: Transfer Liasons

Recommendation 2 Transfer Data System

Graphic: Convene to review articulation

Graphic: Institutions educate students on transfer options

 

Graphic: Reverse Transfer

 

Graphic: Fund transfer scholarships and transfer awareness campaign

Conclusion

South Carolina seeks a transfer ecosystem that allows citizens to achieve their educational goals regardless of circumstance. Recommendations outlined in this report align with several of the considerations jointly promoted by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, The American Council on Education, and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Specifically:

  • Recognition of prior learning should be independent of source or instructional modality.
  • Credit should be awarded consistently across all schools, departments, and programs of study within an institution to the extent possible.
  • Credit should be awarded in such a way as to provide for maximum applicability to specific degree requirements.
  • Policies and practices should facilitate institutional collaboration with centralized resources and infrastructure that are straight-forward and transparent for students.
  • Policies and practices should ensure students can easily obtain and/or release official academic transcripts.

In sum, the health of South Carolina’s student transfer ecosystem needs attention and action across multiple stakeholders and various levels. Fortunately, the state has increasing amounts of good will and a willingness to create a stronger, more equitable transfer system. Established transfer partnerships exist among many individual institutions along with a several statewide agreements with the SCTCS. These examples, along with the state’s existing state infrastructures – the CHE, SCICU, the SCTCS – will provide valuable conduits of development. The extent and magnitude of change needed to realize a goal of transfer system excellence will require a strong call for motivation and resources provided by the highest level of state governance.

Acknowledgements

Support for this project was provided by the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO) and the John N. Gardner Institute (JNGI) through a grant from the Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC) Foundation. The South Carolina Commission on Higher Education (CHE) would especially like to thank the project’s transfer task force members and South Carolina’s higher education institutions for supporting this project. It is the hope that together, we can create a seamless transfer ecosystem for all South Carolinians.

Appendices

Appendices

What's next?

The CHE is fully committed to excellence in transfer and articulation across the system of higher education. In the coming months and years, the CHE will continue to explore implementation of these recommendations across the statewide system of higher education. We firmly believe that increased transfer excellence will facilitate student success and contribute to our state's economy while also support the CHE’s Ascend 60X30 strategy to increase higher education attainment in the state.


Additional Resources

SHEEO

John N. Gardner Institute

CHE Ascend 60X30 Public Agenda Implementation Plan

 

South Carolina Commission on Higher Education

1122 Lady St. Suite 400

Columbia, SC 29201

803-737-2260