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Voices of the Global Community


Troy Holaday, Advising Transfer Students Commission Chair

Without fail, institutions claim to value diversity. Yet institutions often limit their understanding of diversity to the inclusion of individuals from racial or cultural minorities. While seeking out under-represented individuals is an admirable response to a symptomatic lack of diversity, real enrichment is achieved not by counting heads, but rather through learning to prize individuals whose origins, viewpoints, values, and traditions may not be consistent with those of the campus majority. In this sense, transfer students are one of the most commonly encountered yet frequently overlooked sources of diversity.

By definition, a transfer student’s prior education is the product of teaching methods, institutional conventions, physical environments, educational philosophies, and even geographical experiences that are not native to the receiving institution. If advisors learn to understand and appreciate the inherent diversity in transfer students, both the institution and the student will benefit.

The first step in embracing transfer diversity involves taking time to assess a student’s prior non-academic experiences. In assessing the needs of transfer students, advisors sometimes forget to look beyond the student’s coursework. However, awkward and unsuccessful transfer experiences may be expected when we fail to identify dramatic contrasts between the student’s prior institution and his or her new one. When transfer students are unsuccessful, administrators and faculty may too quickly suppose inadequate academic preparation and ignore factors such as a move from a non-residential campus to a residential one, or from small classrooms to larger ones.

Minimizing these contrasting factors may take extra effort that will assuredly pay off in increased student success. One response is a post-orientation program, such as an interest group, or for credit course, specifically designed to help transfer students adapt to their new environment. Many campuses already have postorientation programs that aid freshman in forging connections to their new campus home, but do not supply these same services to transfer students.

Accepting the diversity of transfer students also influences how institutions manage the credit evaluation process. Barriers to effective evaluation may include inertia, rigidity, or simply the lack of a regularized process. Understanding that rejecting credits or shunting them into ineffective electives is a process of discrediting a transfer student’s previous academic experiences may change the demeanor in which we approach such an activity. We should not assume that students expect to lose credits in the transition from one institution to another, and a casual devaluation of a student’s prior coursework can taint the student’s relationship with the institution before he or she even enters a classroom. While this understanding may not actually change the decisions made, it will surely temper the manner in which we communicate the evaluations to the student.

Though our skill in advising transfer students has certainly improved as the phenomenon of transferring students has increased, in the busy rush to get the student started advisors sometimes give in to inertia and choose not to pursue the evaluation of credits they perceive to be inconsequential to the student’s educational goals. Though we may understand that finalizing certain evaluations will not advance a student toward graduation, the students will not understand why so little regard is being given to their hard-earned coursework.

Rigidity, too, can obstruct effective evaluation when matching the content of transfer courses to those from an institution’s own catalog is completed with excessively narrow margins of error. A bias toward one’s own institutional programs may impede a more reasonable comparison of learning outcomes and credit experiences. The best results often are achieved when credit evaluators lay aside the “that’s not the way we do it here” attitude, and instead seek to assess whether the student is academically and socially prepared for the next level of coursework.

Understanding that transfer students foster campus diversity can empower relationships, increase success, and mark an institution as transfer-friendly. A charitable assessment of transfer student experiences and robust program of orientation built upon this understanding will lead to more transfer recruits who, in turn, will provide experienced, yet fresh, viewpoints on campus services and broaden the experiences of their peers and instructors.

Troy Holaday
Ball State University

Cite this article using APA style as: Holaday, T. (2005, February). Diversity in transfer. Academic Advising Today, 28(1). [insert url here]


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