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ASU partners with community colleges to smooth path for transfer students

Mar 22, 2023

In a major push to widen access to bachelor's degrees for transfer students, Arizona State University has formed partnerships with 150 community colleges around the country over the past three years.

These alliances create a seamless transfer experience to more than 400 degree programs at ASU for students who begin their journey at community colleges to save money and stay near home.

Transfer from two-year colleges to university has been a major sticking point in higher education for decades. Many students find that they cannot transfer community college credits to their desired degree programs at universities, resulting in wasted time and money.

While about 80% of community college students want to earn a bachelor's degree, only 32% who started in fall 2015 actually transferred to a four-year institution within six years, according to the Community College Research Center at Columbia University. The reasons are complicated, with lack of money often hindering housing and transportation. But difficulty in transferring credits is one major barrier.

That's a big deal because of the number of students who come to ASU after starting their higher education somewhere else: 42% of all newly enrolled students at ASU in fall 2021, both on campus and online, had taken classes at another institution.

So ASU has worked to eliminate transfer obstacles through two big initiatives – the MyPath2ASU course-mapping tool, plus supportive partnerships with community colleges around the country through the Academic Alliances unit at ASU. The university hit the 150-partnership milestone this month.

About 30,000 students around the country are now actively using MyPath2ASU, a personalized course-by-course transfer map. The digital tool minimizes the loss of credits by helping students select the right courses for their intended major at ASU, for either in-person degree programs or through ASU Online. More than 400 degree programs are offered.

ASU's research has shown that students who use MyPath2ASU are more likely to transfer and have better outcomes than students who don't use it.

The personalized, self-service MyPath2ASU is available to any community college student, regardless of whether their college has a partnership with ASU. But a partnership provides much more support for both students and the community college.

Another reason the transfer process works smoothly is because ASU has fully evaluated more than 1 million courses from other institutions to receive equivalency at ASU, thanks to the Academic Transfer Credit Solutions team, which works closely with ASU faculty to continuously add courses.

It's not uncommon for community colleges to have articulation agreements with universities for individual programs such as psychology or business, according to Amber Covington, senior director of collaboration and partnership integration for academic alliances in the Office of the University Provost.

"What has been different about our approach is that we’re partnering institution to institution, not program to program," she said.

"We’re looking to serve all students," she said. "Because of the way we do course equivalencies, we’re able to offer pathways at a larger scale."

The Academic Alliance team is always reaching out to community colleges around the country, explaining the benefits of partnerships to the institution and its students. The 150 partners include all of the two-year colleges in Arizona, including tribal colleges, and dozens in California.

"We show the colleges how we want to be engaged with them and that we’re encouraging their students to stay and earn their associate degree. We’re not poaching their students," Covington said.

"We’re working together for their students’ success and best outcome and that's what's most salient to the colleges we speak to and why they buy into the partnership and why we were able to get to this level."

Annique Petit, senior director for community college engagement and training at ASU, said that students who sign up for MyPath2ASU while studying at community colleges are much more likely to enroll at ASU after completing their community college goals.

"This directly improves upward mobility opportunities for transfer students, and that's where our focus lies," she said.

"We’re especially fortunate to have a partner like the Maricopa County Community College District. MCCCD was in lockstep with ASU at the beginning of the evolution of our transfer tools and has been instrumental in assisting ASU to help students obtain applicable credits while at MCCCD that apply to their eventual majors at ASU.

"This, in turn, helped ASU to evolve and grow MyPath2ASU in order to assist students at the rest of the Arizona community colleges, and now nationally," she said.

It's important for community college students to start using MyPath2ASU as early in their educational journey as possible so they don't take unneeded courses. So once a college signs a partnership agreement, ASU helps it to get the word out, according to Renee Beauchamp, senior director of transfer operations for academic alliances.

"We actively create a co-marketing toolkit and media campaign to promote the use of MyPath2ASU, which is unlike anything else partner institutions are doing at community colleges," she said. The campaign includes news releases, blog posts, social media assets and integration into both institutions’ websites, as well as twice-yearly training for staff.

"A lot of times during the onboarding phase, the community colleges are impressed with how we work with them. They’ve never experienced that before," she said.

The onboarding process involves training sessions with community college advisors to introduce them to ASU and the resources and support provided to the advisors and their students. Advisors are introduced to topics such as the benefits of MyPath2ASU, campus information, choices of learning modalities, the myriad of transfer-specific tools available to help students choose degree options, how to apply for transfer-specific scholarship opportunities, and how to connect with transfer student ambassadors before enrolling.

Later, ASU will refresh the partnership strategy, creating video testimonials with successful students and tailored messaging around in-demand majors.

"We have a design process so that it's a full-circle experience for our partners," Covington said.

"We don't want any of our early partners to feel like we have lofty goals and then we forgot about them. We work hard at maintaining our partnerships and determining the best touch points to make sure they work."

One of ASU's partners is Long Beach City College in California. Mike Muñoz, the Long Beach Community College District superintendent-president, said the alliance provides the college's students with an avenue to pursue higher education at a university that offers tailored resources for transfer students.

"This also expands the possibilities for our students to transfer to a top-tier university like ASU, renowned for their cutting-edge research, innovation, collaborations with NASA and distinguished faculty," he said.

Program managers Patrick Emmons and Glorian Konieczny are on the team that reaches out to community colleges to see if they’re interested in partnering. Very few decline.

"It's a completely free service that benefits their students and provides them with the most seamless and clear transfer experience," Emmons said.

"But they often wonder how they can take this on because they don't want to add responsibilities to an already busy staff. We try to take as much of the work off the community college as possible so it's a simple connection for them."

Once an agreement is signed, the colleges give ASU access to the course catalogs for the top five programs they initially want to prioritize for articulation — typically majors that are popular or that they want to highlight. ASU then articulates all the courses in those five programs, matching each with the equivalent course at ASU so the credits will transfer toward a degree.

Among the most popular majors for transfers are nursing, business administration, criminology and criminal justice, psychology and engineering.

After the top five programs, the college's entire catalog is articulated, Konieczny said.

ASU and the partner colleges also agree to share data on student enrollment success.

"We both really appreciate the fact that we get to be a part of a movement in higher education that has the potential to lay a foundational change to how transfer is done," Emmons said. "We’re demystifying the process."

Top photo of ASU sign on Tempe campus by Deanna Dent/ASU

Reporter , ASU News

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