Volume XX | Issue 2 | Spring 2020
Sierra Miller transferred from Umpqua Community College to a private four-year university, but financial concerns interfered with the completion of her bachelor’s degree. Photo: Isaiah Miller Photography

Report documents supports, challenges for transfer students

Oregon’s higher-ed institutions can play a positive role

The Transfer Opportunity Program (TOP) at Umpqua Community College was a lifeline for first-generation college student Sierra Miller. TOP advisers directed her to scholarship opportunities, assisted her with class registration and helped her navigate an unfamiliar world. 

“If I hadn’t been accepted into TOP, my college experience would have been more difficult, since I didn’t initially understand the overall process,” Miller says. In 2015, after receiving her Associate of Arts Oregon Transfer degree, she was accepted into a four-year university.

 “My college transition was smooth due to TOP’s guidance and the resources they connected me with,” Miller says. “All of my credits transferred over without a problem.”

Community colleges can offer a cost-effective and convenient option for both traditional and non-traditional students. 

Yet even with comprehensive support systems, challenges remain. According to recent data from the Higher Education Coordinating Commission, only 63% of community college transfer students complete a bachelor’s degree. The reasons range from the financial impacts of lost credits to a lack of support in managing the transition. 

Miller cites financial reasons for not completing her bachelor’s degree. Despite her transfer to a four-year university with high hopes and a nearly 4.0 GPA, she left school with just one term to go. 

In an effort to explore both the supports and challenges encountered by transfer students, The Ford Family Foundation commissioned a collaborative research project. 

“We wanted to raise up examples of the positive role Oregon’s higher education institutions can play in the state’s transfer landscape,” says Denise Callahan, the Foundation’s director of Postsecondary Success. “The goal of the research is to highlight policies and practices that could help contribute to strong transfer outcomes for Oregonians.”

Supporting Transfer Student Success in Oregon

Supporting Transfer Student Success in Oregon: Lessons from Oregon Community Colleges and Universities, published in 2019, highlights policies and practices at six Oregon community colleges and universities in Oregon. These case studies document promising practices and effective strategies for supporting transfer students. 

The report identifies advising systems as the foundation of a successful transfer program. When advising is provided along a coordinated continuum, from community college entry to university degree completion, transfer students are more successful. 

Other features of a strong transfer culture include data use and clear transfer pathways. Transfer-specific student supports include personalized advising, programming and spaces which help students build a sense of belonging; online tools to support self-advising; and flexible financial aid and scholarship processes. Case studies in the report document many successful practices at the highlighted two- and four-year institutions. 

Recommendations from the case studies:

  • Invest in and continue to refine technology tools aimed at improving the credit transfer and degree audit process. Accurate online tools should be easily accessible to students at all stages of their journey. 
  • Invest in more supports for transfer students, including advisers, training, financial aid and programming. Ongoing training should be conducted to help faculty advisers understand transfer students’ needs.
  • Develop and maintain partnerships across the state to support transfer agreements. Existing agreements should be maintained, new pacts developed and transfer pathways should be strengthened.

The report highlights that community college students have different needs; in response, The Ford Family Foundation is adding a new scholarship for transfer students to its suite of scholarship programs (see below).

“We hope that Oregon’s public institutions both see themselves in the findings and learn about new practices, policies and strategies that may provide opportunities to enhance their current work,” Callahan says. 

Supporting Transfer Student Success in Oregon: Lessons from Oregon Community Colleges and Universities can be downloaded for free at www.tfff.org/TransferReport.   


Recognizing that community college transfer students have unique needs, The Ford Family Foundation is adding a new scholarship program in 2020: Ford Transfer Scholars Program. The new scholarship is designed for community college students ready to transfer as a junior to a four-year college. 

The scholarship joins four other scholarship programs that the Foundation offers. Each program targets different college-bound individuals: Ford Scholars for graduating high school seniors; Ford Opportunity for single parents; Ford Restart for adults, age 25 or older; and Ford Sons and Daughters for dependent children or stepchildren of Roseburg Forest Products Co. employees. 

The Ford Transfer Scholars Program is a variable, need-based award of up to 90% of the recipient’s unmet financial need. The scholarship will be offered beginning in the 2020-21 application year (applications open Nov. 1, 2020).  

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