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Transfer students’ success is crucial part of improving access

The University of Washington is working hard to streamline the process by which transfer students enroll at the UW and do more to meet the needs of these students once they arrive. Recently, I had the pleasure of sharing some of this work with a Presidential Roundtable for the American Talent Initiative. The ATI is a collaboration among a group of public and private universities to admit and graduate more low- and middle-income students to these top institutions, and the UW is proud to be a founding member. Our efforts to ease the transition for transfer students matters because community colleges are a crucial pipeline for low-income and underrepresented students seeking a four-year degree. And increasing access to higher education isn’t only about admitting and enrolling students – it’s also about making sure they graduate and have opportunities to make the most of their Husky Experience.

At ATI, I was proud to share some of our transfer students’ successes: On our Seattle campus, about 4,000 students, or 15 percent, are transfer students, as are nearly a quarter of students across all three campuses. At the UW, transfer students also graduate at equal or higher rates than students who enter as freshmen and transfer students are more diverse and more likely to be eligible for Pell grants.

It is a point of pride that our very own Washington State Community and Technical College system is a national leader, with 34 colleges across the state serving close to 400,000 Washingtonians. Here at the UW, we have the opportunity and responsibility as a public university to create the best possible conditions for the success of these students who seek to complete a four-year degree. In recent years, we’ve worked to foster a culture that integrates transfers and meets the needs they have that a freshman might not, and we’ve done so in partnership with our state’s community and technical colleges. We meet with community college leaders quarterly to understand what hurdles their students are facing in transferring to a four-year college. As a result, we have made changes, like notifying transfer applicants of admission in the spring instead of the summer so they have more time to make plans for housing and financial aid. We have made it easier for community college students to understand what courses to take to increase their chances of admission to the UW. We have also adjusted how we support transfer students after they enroll to help them focus on a major and get the leadership training and opportunities for job preparedness that are important to their success.

Our work in this area is ongoing and we still have more to learn and do, but I am excited to be part of a larger effort to ensure that students who get their start in community colleges have pathways to attaining a four-year degree – and all of the opportunities that a four-year degree confers. The UW is not alone in this mission as a broad range of universities, from Williams College to Harvard to Ohio State focus on increasing access to higher education for low income students. The culture change this represents is huge. And it’s an opportunity for higher education to come together and learn from each other in service of a goal we all share: increase access to education for the benefit of all our nation’s people.