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This post is written by The National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students (NISTS), at University of North Georgia.

Policies and procedures tend to shape higher education institutional cultures disproportionately, shortchanging an emphasis on the student experience. Similarly, traditional approaches to transferring credits and physically moving between institutions place the responsibility of transferring on the student, not the institution. It’s time to flip the script.

Learner Mobility is Reality
38% of college students, over one million individuals, generate credits at more than one institution during their college careers (Shapiro, et al., 2018).

Transfer patterns and definitions vary , (Taylor and Jain, 2017) but one constant is that transferring is incredibly difficult for many students, especially for students with abundant community cultural wealth, but limited transfer capital. Community cultural wealth, as defined by Yosso (2005), combines six types of capital (aspirational, linguistic, familial, social, navigational, resistance) and represents a strengths-based perspective students of color can leverage as they navigate higher education. Similarly, successful adjustment for transfer students is influenced by their transfer capital, knowledge and experiences students have gained from higher education environments, or transfer capital (Laanan, Starobin, & Eggleston, 2010).

Five Elements of a Transfer Receptive Culture (TRC)
Community colleges provide educational access to many students of color and other underserved populations. Unfortunately, students who begin at community colleges are less likely to graduate with a bachelor’s degree than those who begin at a four-year institution. A critical framework for examining this disparity involves developing a transfer receptive institutional culture (TRC).

Informed by critical race theory and focusing on students of color as holders and creators of knowledge, TRC examines the role of both the sending and receiving institution in the student transfer process. We break down this demonstrated institutional commitment to support transfer students into five elements:

  1. High Institutional Priority for Transfer Students

Establish the transfer of students, especially nontraditional, first-generation, low-income, and underserved students, as a high institutional priority that ensures stable accessibility, retention, and graduation.

  1. Transfer-Specific Outreach Resources

Provide outreach and resources that focus on the specific needs of transfer students while complimenting the community college mission of transfer.

  1. Transfer-Specific Academic and Financial Support

Offer financial and academic support through distinct opportunities for nontraditional/reentry transfer students. Create opportunities to stimulate your students to achieve at high academic levels.

  1. Transfer Student’s Community and Family Support

Acknowledge the lived experiences that students bring and the intersectionality between community and family.

  1. Transfer-Appropriate Research and Assessment

Create an appropriate and organic framework from which to assess, evaluate, and enhance transfer receptive programs and initiatives that can lead to further scholarship on transfer students.

Build a Transfer Receptive Culture
Building a transfer receptive culture is a shared responsibility requiring careful attention to the transfer process by all individuals at institutions preparing students to transfer students and those receiving them. It also relies upon collaboration across institutional divisions and departments and the lifespan of the student experience.

Regardless of your role, you have the opportunity – and responsibility – to influence the transfer receptive culture at your institution.

Frontline practitioners
Every interaction is an opportunity to propel a student toward her or his goals or to unintentionally affirm they don’t belong in college. What do you know about your transfer student population that influences how you interact with them? How are you aligned with colleagues in other departments to understand how students’ experience your institution?

Mid-level professionals
You are in the unique position to intentionally determine how transfer students will receive support from your department, as well as continually remind those to whom you report the importance of considering transfer students in institutional policies and goals. What do you know about your transfer student population that allows you to design programs and services tailored to their needs?

The classroom is the primary conduit to institutional engagement for many transfer students. How are transfer students welcomed into your program? Are they afforded the same research, study abroad, and mentoring opportunities as other students?

Executive-level involvement in establishing a transfer receptive culture is critical. How is a commitment to transfer students reflected in the mission, goals, and values of the institution? How are conversations about transfer students infused into meeting agendas? What information do you need to feel well-versed in transfer?

Culture change requires a fundamental commitment to holistically exploring the elements of a transfer receptive culture and formulating specific strategies to assist underserved students in the transfer process. To learn more, join us for a more in depth discussion about transfer receptive cultures and the student experience on Tuesday, March 19th at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time.


Laanan, F.S.; Starobin, S.S.; Eggleston, L.E. (2010). Adjustment of community college students at a four-year university: Role and relevance of transfer student capital for student retention. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice, 12(2), 175-209.

Jain, D. (2009). Critical race theory and community colleges: Through the eyes of women student leaders of color. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 34(:1-2) 78-91. DOI: 10.1080/10668920903385855

Jain, D., Bernal, S., Lucero, I., Herrera, A. & Solorzano, D. (2016). Toward a critical race perspective of transfer: An exploration of a transfer receptive culture. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 40(12), 1013-1024. DOI: 10.1080/10668926.2016.1213674

Poisel, M.A. & Joseph, S. (Eds.) (2018). Building transfer student pathways for college and career success. Columbia, SC: National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition and the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students.

Shapiro, D., Dundar, A., Huie, F., Wakhungu, P.K., Bhimdiwali, A., Nathan, A., & Youngsik, H. (2018). Transfer and mobility: A national view of student movement in postsecondary institutions, Fall 2011 cohort (Signature Report No. 15). Herndon, VA: National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.Taylor, J. L. & Jain, D. (2017). The multiple dimensions of transfer: Examining the transfer function in American higher education. Community College Review, 45(4), p. 273-293.

Yosso, T. J. (2005). Who’s culture has capital? Race, Ethnicity, and Education, 8(1), pp.69-91.


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