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Using Innovative Technologies to Improve Transfer Student Success

Tens of millions of workers will require new skills and new training in the coming years. These would-be learners — at both community colleges and universities — will require a dramatic simplification of intake processes, credit evaluation systems and academic pathways. And if we can support them in enrolling, they’ll join the millions of college students who are already pursuing their bachelor’s degrees in nonlinear ways.

At Arizona State University, we’ve found that innovative technology — when thoughtfully deployed — can be incredibly helpful in responding to the changing needs of today’s students, including the more than 40 percent of ASU undergraduates who begin at community colleges. Over many years, we have gained considerable insight into what works, as we have partnered with more than 1,000 community colleges across the country to build capacity and better serve transfers.

Technology to Serve Current Students and Prospective Students

ASU offers tools and services to support students at every step of their learning journey, such as choosing a career and academic program, planning and tracking progress toward a degree, transferring achievements seamlessly across institutions, and sharing skills and learning achievements with employers. But when it comes to better serving transfer students, it’s not enough for a university to focus only on those who are already enrolled. A university has to be willing to focus resources on tools for prospective students who are studying at community colleges across the country and who may still be years away from transferring.

MyPath2ASU is a program that includes a robust set of tools to provide prospective transfer students clarity on credit transferability and applicability and facilitate rapid verification and approval of courses not yet evaluated. The ASU Transfer Guide offers a searchable database of over 800,000 course equivalencies from other postsecondary institutions, educational experiences completed during military service and standardized exams. Community college students can plan their path to ASU from the time they are registering for their first college classes. The Transfer Guide provides clear course recommendations and term-by-term steps to be guaranteed admission to not only ASU, but to a transfer student’s ASU major of choice.

In this way, the MyPath2ASU program makes credit applicability clear and helps transfer students shorten time to bachelor’s degree completion and reduce excess credits.

Technology to Allow Scaling and Personalization

In other arenas, technology can scale to deliver a personalized advising experience to large numbers of students. For years, people have proposed increasing the number of advisers at community colleges and universities, to help students make informed choices about their career goals, select an academic program and support their progress toward a degree. But the reality is that budget constraints do not allow most institutions to add significant numbers of new positions that would bring down advising caseloads to more manageable sizes. Further, no one adviser can or should be expected to know all there is to know about the hundreds of career options and academic programs at every institution.

Innovative tools can help increase advising capacity, handling many of the more time-consuming but important tasks, such as creating personalized academic plans for thousands of students. Within MyPath2ASU, for example, the Pathway Progress feature allows students to perform a pathway audit, seeing which requirements they have completed toward their intended university major and which are currently in progress or remain to be completed. And for students who may change their minds along the way, this feature allows students to ask important what-if questions. For example, what if I want to change my major at ASU from one area to another? How would the community college courses I have already taken transfer, and more importantly, apply, to the proposed new choice?

Answering such questions would normally take up many advising hours, but by harnessing the power of technology to perform these tasks, students can quickly run pathway audits and examine their possibilities with full and accurate information. Thus, we can personalize the student’s experience, scale services to meet the needs of many more students and free up advisers to spend their time and expertise on other important conversations with students. Further, because we can automate certain transfer processes, such as course equivalencies and academic plan development, we can ensure that all students are treated in a fair and consistent way.

Technology to Support Student Agency and Autonomy

Technology tools can also give students more control over their academic and career pathways. Many higher education professionals take pride in guiding students through the higher education system, but our goal should be to make the system transparent and easy to navigate. We need to put the right information into the hands of students at the right time so that they have the agency and autonomy to do what is in their best interests.

Community college partners are working with ASU to allow students to control their own academic transcripts through the use of distributed ledger technology. The concept is similar to people controlling their health-care records, as opposed to having to call one doctor’s office to get records transferred to another doctor’s office. Owning their own learning credentials will allow students to easily access and share their transcripts and diploma, as many times as needed throughout their college years and their career.

Facilitating the easy exchange of transcripts from both the community college and university will also contribute to a more seamless reverse transfer of credit process. ASU’s current reverse transfer of credit system provides for hundreds of community college transfers to earn their associate degrees every year, but this electronic exchange of transcripts, where students control who can and cannot view their records, may make it possible for the university to help thousands of students and their community colleges to increase associate degree completion.

The approaches and tools we’ve outlined are, of course, just some of the ones that could help improve transfer. More important than any one technical solution will be supporting a culture of innovation and learning across the nation’s community colleges and universities. This is the broader effort we are advancing at ASU and through our service on the Tackling Transfer Policy Advisory Board. It is the responsibility of all of us who are passionate about education to design responsive and adaptive systems that work for all individuals, not just the few. We will know we are successful, at the end of the day, if we are empowering learners to have greater control over their academic destiny and supporting their ability to complete their educational goals.

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Tuesday, April 6, 2021
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