Putting focus on transfer students

2/20/2017

Tennessee leaders in higher education will meet next week to discuss how best to ensure the success of a growing population of college transfer students.

The Tennessee Higher Education Commission and University of Tennessee are partnering to host the Tennessee Transfer Summit, which they are hoping to make an annual event, on Wednesday and Thursday in Murfreesboro. The summit comes as the state is anticipating the graduation this spring of the first cohort of students from the Tennessee Promise program, a scholarship program providing access to free community college.

It also follows an announcement by Gov. Bill Haslam in January to launch a sister program, Tennessee Reconnect, a tuition-free community college plan for adults.

Both are part of the Drive to 55, the governor’s goal of having 55 percent of Tennessee residents with a college education by 2025.

The Tennessee Promise program and before that a local initiative, Knox Achieves, have contributed to an increase in community college students who want to continue their education at four-year institutions at least one local community college.

“Some students who might in the past have chosen to go to a four-year school instead are choosing community college because it’s a better deal for them and so we’ve seen an increase in students who are then planning to transfer,” said Kathryn Rhodes, dean of academic student services at Roane State Community College.

About 1,500, or one-third, of Roane State’s current student population has indicated as of fall 2016 that they plan to transfer to four-year institutions, Rhodes said. Starting at a community college can be a benefit to students not only for cost-savings seen via the Tennessee Promise program, but also because it provides a smaller environment for students, including many first-generation students, to adapt to college life and expectations, she said.

At the University of Tennessee Knoxville, transfer students are becoming an “increasingly important component” of enrollment strategies, said Mary Beth Burlison, assistant registrar for transfer operations and articulation at UTK. More than 2,500 transfer students have entered the UT system each year over the last five years.

“As Tennessee Promise unfolds obviously we expect to see higher demand and a changing profile of our transfer students,” Burlison said.

She said the university in May 2015 charged a transfer student task force with exploring ways to improve the transfer student transition and experience at UT.

“It’s about getting their feet on the ground and running,” Burlison said. “Making sure they understand the landscape of campus, building friendships and getting involved, and making sure they are successful as students.”

Rhodes said she is also expecting the Tennessee Reconnect program to boost the number of adult learners that seek to transfer from community college to four-year colleges and universities.

“I think a lot of them will come initially with the goal of getting an associate degree and then decide if they’re successful that they want to move on to a four-year degree,” she said.

“They have success and they find a passion for a particular discipline and then they decide, ‘In order for me to do what my life long career goal is, I will need a four-year degree,’ and now they feel prepared to do that.”

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Rachel Ohm

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