Transitioning Transfers to Columbia

By Ivana Hester

The rising cost of higher education has many students searching for affordable alternatives, such as attending community college to complete general education classes before transferring to a four-year institution.

To attract these transfer students, Columbia launched an initiative at the beginning of the year to make transfer students’ transition more seamless and create a more transfer-friendly community, according to Keri Walters, head of the initiative and assistant dean for faculty advising in the School of Fine & Performing Arts.

“We want students who are interested in coming to Columbia … to be able to readily see how the work they have already done would map onto Columbia’s requirements,” said Louise Love, interim Provost and vice president for Academic Affairs.

The initiative follows the lowest transfer student enrollment numbers since 2004. According to the college’s General Summary Report of Student Registration, there were a total of 1,258 transfer students at Columbia in 2012, down from 1,614 in 2011 and 1,573 in 2010. Enrollment at Columbia slipped 7.2 percent from 2011 to 2012, while the number of transfer students enrolled dropped 22 percent during the same period.

To help increase transfer student enrollment, Walters chaired a committee last spring focused on possible changes to improve the current transfer student evaluation process.

The committee was composed of Andrew Whatley, assistant dean for faculty advising and LAS Initiatives in the School of Liberal Arts & Sciences; Pattie Mackenzie, assistant dean for faculty advising in the School of Media Arts; Susan Sindlinger, director of degree evaluation; and Patrick Fahy, director of admissions and recruitment in the Undergraduate Admissions Office.

According to Walters, the committee produced a report called “Strategies for Transfer Student Success,” which was later broken down into five points that should be implemented in May 2013.

The first point requires an update of the courses and academic requirements Columbia will accept for credit from various community colleges students are transferring from, Walters said. This will allow transfer students to see which courses will count toward their major at Columbia, something Walters said was happenstance in the past.

Walters said the second step in the initiative is for the college to purchase the online program, a website which allows transfer students to view the equivalency of their community college courses to Columbia’s. She said many colleges and universities use the website.

Additionally, the college hopes to form strategic bonds with the 18 feeder schools the majority of transfer students come from, Walters said.

These bonds would be with faculty, staff and administrators and would hopefully include onsite visits to the community colleges by Columbia faculty members,she said.

“[The initiative] is a proactive approach to what is already happening,” Walters said. “[The visits] will lessen any surprises students may face when they get here and will make the whole transfer process more seamless.”

The fourth step in the initiative will be a review of transfer credits and how classes taken at community colleges can transfer to a student’s major at Columbia. According to Walters, this is already in place, but the goal is to systematize it on a larger scale.

Lastly, the college would like to implement transfer-friendly programs at the college. Walters said she plans to launch a website that acts as an online transfer center on which students can plan their college career path two years before transferring.

“Certainly the school is always watching trends, both in our own enrollment and in national enrollment and is reacting to [them],” said Murphy Monroe, executive director of admissions at the Undergraduate Admissions Office. “It is essential that [transfer students] understand how their previous work will fit into their Columbia experience.”

According to Walters, the committee modeled its recommendations after programs offered by DePaul University and Governors State University.

“We were able to find that [those universities] had presented at national conferences on their outstanding transfer services,” she said. “We have to keep up with best practices that other institutions are incorporating.”

Pamela Lee Kadirifu, director of the Transfer Admission and Adult Enrollment Center at DePaul, said the university has multiple transfer student programs that allow students to meet with an onsite adviser to discuss their course equivalencies.

Kadirifu said DePaul representatives regularly visit community colleges to talk with students and develop relationships with faculty members and recently adopted the Degree Admissions Partnership Program in 2011, which guides students through their community college courses for two years and offers them a scholarship once admitted to DePaul.

“We pride ourselves here on being available to students and setting up resources that empower our students to use the same resources [on their own],” Kadirifu said. “That is why we give them access to so much before they enroll at the university.”

Ashley Tarasiewicz, a senior journalism major, is in her last semester at Columbia. She transferred after spending 3 years at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills, Ill., one of the 18

feeder schools.

Tarasiewicz said she took some journalism classes while at MVCC to go toward her major. However, Columbia accepted only one of those courses for credit toward her major, and the other counted as an elective.

“It was kind of disappointing because I took Intro to Journalism and then News Writing,” Tarasiewicz said. “Everything that I took in Reporting and Writing I, I took at Moraine.”

Tarasiewicz said she thinks the college’s initiative is a good idea and an opportunity she would have taken advantage of.

Walters said she thinks the initiative will ultimately benefit the student body because the college is auditing its programs that will help students better calculate the amount of time needed to complete a degree.

“Every student needs to know about that and how to plan their schedule in the way that makes the most sense,” she said. “We want students to know that we are concerned about them and that we are working really hard to improve services.”