President Biden’s U.S. Family Plan, announced last month, calls for more than $ 100 billion to provide two years of free community college to all students. This is a great opportunity for those who might have thought that higher education was out of reach. But the vast majority of students who start at community college aim for a bachelor’s degree, and few do. To provide meaningful opportunities for social mobility in a world of free community colleges, colleges and universities need to make efficient and effective transfer a priority.
Those looking for a role model should look to San Antonio College, which won the 2021 Aspen Award for Community College Excellence earlier this month. SAC, one of the five community colleges in the Alamo Colleges District in Texas, has a comprehensive transfer system in place that helps students stay on track and keep them on track. Alamo Colleges have established clear pathways to a bachelor’s degree and provide one-on-one, must-have counseling for students. Additionally, OAC creates strong links with four-year institutions and continually assesses systems and student outcomes to improve processes.
These practices have given good results. Alamo Colleges District students graduate in an associate degree in 65 hours, on average, compared to a national average of over 80 hours, which helps students maintain momentum (and preserve financial aid dollars. ). SAC students transfer at rates eight percentage points above the national average. The rate at which transfer students graduate from bachelor’s degrees also exceeds the national average – and at several partner universities, students leaving SAC graduate faster than students who started there as freshmen.
Provide extremely clear pathways in coordination with four-year schools
Guided courses are an important part of saving students time and money in the pursuit of their degree. The Alamo College District has more than 1,000 Transfer Counseling Guides (TAGs), which chart pathways to 26 Texas colleges and universities in one compact. TAGs are the result of close coordination between faculty, student services and administrators from SAC, Alamo Colleges District and university partners.
TAGs tell a student in a given program which courses he or she must take each semester to transfer to a specific university with a junior level in their major. Students taking TAGs are guaranteed to lose a maximum of three credits, or one course, on transfer, compared to a national average of 13 credits. Additionally, about half of the transfer channels are “seamless,” meaning transfer students won’t lose any credit on the transfer and will save an average of $ 40,215 if transferred to a public pact university.
Prioritize planning for early transfers
To get students on the right track as soon as possible, SAC strives to understand their goals and ambitions during their first semester and helps them make early choices that will facilitate a smooth transition to a four-year school or college. workforce. SAC students are expected to choose their 30-credit transfer destination – and, unlike many colleges, they are encouraged to do so even sooner.
As part of new student orientation sessions, group counseling sessions that take place immediately after enrollment, and a student success course called Learning Frameworks that is required for new students at university, SAC provides information on pathways, careers and transfer, and obtains information. students on what they want to study and where they might want to go.
During orientation, students choose one of six major educational pathways (such as public service or health and biosciences) and attend group counseling sessions based on their area of interest. During these sessions, counselors provide information on coursework needed for the degree, review TAGs, and begin working with students on Individualized Study Plans (IAPs). In the Learning Frameworks course, students create a personal mission statement, identify individual goals, and develop a plan to achieve them. Their instructors use advisors to work with students on their ISPs and make an appointment with a transfer representative, many of whom are stationed at SAC, to work with students on their applications, connect them to financial aid. and scholarships, and provide information on course equivalencies. .
Adviser with a concrete agenda
The “guided” part of the SAC guided tours is particularly strong. The Alamo Colleges District has built a highly organized and robust counseling structure, called AlamoADVISE, where each student works with a counselor throughout their journey, and the counselor is integrated into their curriculum. Advisors work with OAC faculty and faculty at partner universities to keep abreast of course changes, departmental requirements, and other information of great relevance to transferring students – which is facilitated by the advisors’ specialization in degree programs.
Consulting is one of SAC’s few strategic priorities, and dedicated funding ensures a relatively low workload for advisors (380 to one). Students must meet with their counselor at 15, 30 and 45 credit hours. These checkpoints are associated with clear milestones and expectations for each counseling session, during which counselors frame student progress with stepping stones, such as leading students to choose their guided path and understand transfer options. before 3 credit hours, commit to a 30 hour transfer destination. and schedule the transfer – including obtaining application and financial aid information – to 30 credit hours and beyond. Throughout this process, counselors are constantly checking in with students and reviewing their ISPs to make sure they’re on track to graduate and transfer.
Integrate continuous improvement
There is a strong commitment to continuous improvement and accountability across SAC, which has helped improve transfer student outcomes. Alamo District Councilors undergo training to effectively guide their students and are required to complete a core skill set each year. These skills include identifying a student’s intention to transfer, understanding counseling steps, and using TAGs to direct student coursework. SAC advisors also monitor weekly indicators of student success in their workload and speak to those who appear to need additional support.
After each counseling session, students complete a counseling appointment survey, checking whether they learned what they needed (about satisfactory academic progress, for example) and collecting information on student satisfaction. students (“Was the counselor prepared?”). Advisors review the results weekly and work to resolve ongoing issues.
Finally, faculty and university leaders pay attention to program alignment and transfer of student success. Each year, the OAC and university partners meet by discipline to update TAGs and discuss course compliance and academic expectations and the success of transfer students. SAC also tracks the performance of graduates at transfer destinations, with a weekly completion team meeting to assess the results of transfer students by program.
It has taken a long time for SAC to develop the comprehensive practices that serve transfer students so well. SAC and the Alamo Colleges District began designing their Guided Course model in 2010, AlamoADVISE was launched in 2014, and the Texas Compact that created TAGs was formed in 2016. Once all the elements are in place, the results show. are improved: the time to graduation immediately dropped and has continued to decline ever since, and after a few years transfers exceeded the national average. Ultimately, the college was named the best in the country due to a comprehensive set of well-designed systems and a commitment to never sit idle.