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Kim Morton, Millersville University

Kim Morton.jpgTransfer students are a specialized population that are all too often taken for granted.  Whether moving up from a community college or over from another four-year institution, transfer students find themselves swept in with the incoming freshman.  Those that work in higher education often think that since this population of students already attended another college, they don’t need as much attention or assistance.  The students often think that since they’ve attended another institution they know all they need to know.  Both of these thoughts couldn’t be further from the truth.  Instituting campus wide efforts to address the needs of this subpopulation through avenues like an advisory group will help ensure a smooth transition for students and a better understanding of their needs by the university community.

A year ago I began a position newly created to welcome and assist transfer students through the transition of arriving and succeeding at a new institution.  Millersville University, like other institutions, now acknowledges that not only do transfer students help make up the attrition rate of their departing students, but they also add to the diversity of their campus.  Prior to my arrival, Millersville had conducted focus groups to gauge the experiences of MU transfer students.  This, combined with my prior experience of ten years at a community college, allowed me to hit the ground running.  After surveying the environment, I discovered that many people were concerned about transfers, but there wasn’t a concerted effort to work on their behalf.  One of the first things I did was create a college-wide Transfer Advisory Committee.  The goal was not only to get views and experiences of faculty, staff, and students across campus, but to have buy-in amongst them when we sought to make changes.

The committee began their first meeting with some good, old fashioned brainstorming.  I asked them where they have seen struggles or concerns of transfer students.  In a short time we had a nice list of about thirty issues.  We then split the list up into three categories (recruitment, transition, and retention) and ourselves into three corresponding subcommittees and went to work for a few months investigating the issues of the concerns on the lists as well as what, if anything, should be done to address the issue.  Some issues listed during the brainstorming turned out to not be as big of an issue upon investigation (it turns out transfer students want and seek out advising so that putting on a special hold to require advising may not be necessary), whereas other issues arose that weren’t originally on the list, such as a concern amongst faculty about the equivalency of course transfers and our lack of a policy to review the equivalencies to ensure they are still accurate.

After one year we’ve made some impressive strides towards addressing our list.  We have changed the college-wide probation policy so transfers are not penalized for the credits they brought to Millersville, awarded some transfer scholarships for the first time, will create a transfer wing in our new residence suites nearing completion, and identified new transfer students on faculty rosters.  We’ve also discussed expanding the committee to get additional departments represented as we move forward.

Advisory committees are not a new concept.  Institutions use them both internally and externally to ensure they are serving the best interests of the group they were formed to advance.  What I’ve taken away from my experience is how essential they are to see real change for the subpopulation, in this case transfers.  It would have been unrealistic for me alone to expect to get as much accomplished to advocate for transfers as we have as a group.  When a group is working together it becomes a college-wide interest instead of a singular, or even departmental, interest.

Forming an advisory group for different populations is good practice on campus.  Here are some tips I learned that will help with the effectiveness of the group:

  • Allow for all ideas to be presented and vetted.  I went in with some definite ideas of strategies that we would investigate, but many of the ones that ended up on the list were things that were unique to the viewpoints of the people that suggested them.  Not working in that department, I hadn’t even considered them as concerns.  If the leader of the advisory committee doesn’t allow for the free flow of ideas then it limits what can be done.  Put aside egos and structure to welcome everyone’s input.
  • Provide structure to the meetings, but allow for flexibility.  I’ve been to other advisory committee meetings where the leader took so much control that there wasn’t an opportunity to actually advise.  The point of an advisory committee is to get feedback and ideas from other areas across campus.  You need an agenda, but create it with enough room that allows the ideas to flow and action to occur.
  • Listen! Some of the best ideas came from a conversation that wasn’t even about the idea.  Be open to new opportunities and thoughts and when you hear the golden nugget, dig in to it.
  • Don’t work in a vacuum.  The advisory group will overlap with other groups and efforts being conducted on campus.  Why work independently when the efforts can be doubled?  At the same time we are working on improving transfer issues, the university is focusing on campus-wide retention.  Obviously some of our strategies could play into what they are planning.  By working together we are doubling our efforts and able to take advantage of their financial resources.
  • Communicate the positive work of the advisory committee to the campus.  There are many advisory committees on our campus that most people are unaware of.  Make sure to let the campus know what is being done and who is doing it.  This will allow them to follow up with people they may know that serves on the committee if they have questions.  We created two brief informational newsletters about the transfer advisory committee—one was sent internally on campus to faculty and staff while the other was sent to our partner community colleges.  Letting these groups, that should be invested in the success of transfer students, know what we are doing was key to advocating for this group of students.

Kim Morton
Advisement Coordinator of Transfer Students
Academic & Student Development
Millersville University

Cite this article using APA style as: Morton, K. (2015, December). It takes a village. Academic Advising Today, 38(4). Retrieved from [insert url here]


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