Indiana Regional Transfer Study

December 13, 2014

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The Student Experience of Transfer Pathways between Ivy Tech Community College and Indiana University

This report details findings from focus groups with college students across Indiana. All of these students were planning to transfer or had transferred from the state community college system, Ivy Tech, to a school in the Indiana University system. We wanted to find out what these students had to say about their experiences preparing for and navigating the transfer from Ivy Tech to Indiana University. These insights can help policymakers and education leaders understand the barriers and opportunities transfer students face so they may adjust policies and practices accordingly.

For students seeking a bachelor’s degree, the idea of starting at a community college is a sensible one. Students could save money and get a strong foundation for success. Unfortunately, this rationale is belied by the reality that many students experience college as a maze and not a straight path forward.

Most students we spoke to shared stories about false starts, costly wandering, poor advisement, time wasted and money lost. Understanding these stories is essential. The roadblocks these and other transfer students experience can have serious impacts on persistence and completion. The problem is especially acute as a significant majority of students served by these institutions arrive at college as unconfident or underprepared learners.

This research was funded by Lumina Foundation and included roughly fifty focus groups with 333 transfer students in Indiana from eight Indiana University campuses and eight Ivy Tech Community College campuses. This work was planned and executed in close partnership with Indiana University and Ivy Tech. While qualitative research is a powerful vehicle for generating a deeper understanding of a problem, the conclusions drawn from research of this kind should be viewed as suggestive rather than definitive.

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Students identified a number of obstacles to smooth and seamless transfer. These fall under 4 main themes. We have included student quotes from the focus groups to illustrate these themes.

Theme 1: Completion

Nearly every student said a four-year degree is increasingly essential in today’s economy. Many also said that completion of an associate degree is an important intermediate step toward a baccalaureate for both practical and psychological reasons.

I think that a bachelor’s degree now takes you as far as a high school diploma did 30 years ago. It is a necessity to have a college degree now because of the economy, the job market. If you want to make that extra money you have to continue even past the bachelor’s degree.

Theme 2: Pathways

Most students told stories suggesting college is experienced as a maze, rather than a clear path, and many reported losing time and money because they took courses that did not transfer or that transferred only as electives.

Only 11 of the 25 courses I took transferred. And of the classes that transferred, not all of them transferred for my degree. I lost so much time and money.

Theme 3: Advising

Most students described frustrating and often unhelpful or even misleading experiences with the advisement system. Advisors in a separate, but related, student pathways study echoed this frustration through stories of large caseloads and changing requirements.

As far as scheduling classes, when you schedule an appointment, it’s so quick that you really don’t have time to ask the different questions that you might have. If you send an email, sometimes it might be a day or two before you get a response.

Theme 4:  Communication

Most students reported dysfunctional channels of communication both within and, especially, between institutions; information is hard to find and often inadequate, incorrect, or conflicting. Awareness of dedicated information resources is low and utilization limited.

You talk to whether it be financial aid, advisors, scheduling, whatever, and you always get a different story.