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A Bridge to Success

A Bridge to Success

UTA has long been a popular destination for transfer students. Now the University is working to ensure that they can earn their degrees in less time and at less cost.

By Teresa Woodard Schnyder

Illustration by Jon Krause

Kasandra Moreno didn’t start her undergraduate education at The University of Texas at Arlington, but she got here as fast as she could. That transfer turned out to be a transformative experience that provided her with the college experience she always wanted.

“I made the right decision,” says Moreno, a senior sociology major. “I’ve gotten so many different opportunities—leadership opportunities, opportunities for my career later in life—here. I’m really glad I decided to come to UTA.”

UTA is Texas’ top choice for transfer students, with 5,750 new undergraduate transfer students enrolled in fall 2015. U.S. News & World Report ranked UTA the third-largest destination in the nation for transfer students based on its 2015 survey of undergraduate programs.

“Our transfer students make us proud every day at UTA. But we owe them, as their choice institution for completing their four-year degree, a clear path to success and not just enrollment,” says Ashley Purgason, assistant vice president for strategic initiatives. “We have to keep our focus on graduation for these driven students.”

The Academic Plaza (pictured above) is a hub for student support services, including TransferUTA.

This year UTA launched two new initiatives to help students navigate the transfer process and complete their degrees on time. TransferUTA provides a central resource for transfer students to get information and support. The University is also partnering with the Tarrant County College District (TCCD) in a new Early Transfer Identification Program (E-TIP) that will connect first-semester TCCD students with transfer counselors who will support them through their associate degrees and shepherd them toward a UTA degree plan.

These innovative efforts are crucial if the state wants to achieve ambitious goals to expand the college-going pipeline. In Texas, about 38.5 percent of adults ages 25 to 34 hold a degree or advanced certificate. But that percentage needs to reach 60 percent by 2030 to meet goals established in the state’s 60x30TX higher education plan. That means the state will need to expand the number of students earning college degrees or certificates annually from 300,000 today to at least 550,000 a year.

Easing the Transition

According to data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, 37.2 percent of college students transfer at least once within six years of starting school. This percentage is driven in part by the closure of for-profit colleges such as ITT Tech—brought on by sanctions from the U.S. Department of Education—which has also sent thousands of students scrambling to transfer their college credits. They join the growing number of students who start their college degrees at community college to help trim the cost of a degree.

But students can underestimate the challenges of successfully transferring. For example, according to a report in the journal Educational Evaluation and Policy, less than 60 percent of community college students successfully transfer most of their credit hours to a four-year institution. About 15 percent essentially have to start their degree plans all over.

Statewide, less than 23 percent of students who enrolled in a community college had advanced to a four-year institution six years later, according to a report by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB).

The E-TIP initiative aims to boost the number of local community college transfers by removing the barriers that may deter students from pursuing a four-year degree. TCCD and UTA share relevant student data to create an early admissions record at the university level for prospective students.

The record paves the way for UTA to open communication channels with students, track their progress, and invite them to special workshops and campus events.

Participating students will not waste money—or time—on classes that will not count toward their major.

From the moment the university admissions record is created, that first-time TCCD student’s UTA tuition costs will be locked in for 48 months at the current UTA rate, helping students and parents better plan and account for finances as they complete their bachelor’s degree.

“Seventy percent of our students declare that they want to transfer on, and we want most of them to go to UTA,” says Bill Coppola, president of Tarrant County College’s Southeast campus. “A lot of them want to stay in their own backyard. The goal of the relationship between Tarrant County College and any university, especially UTA in the Arlington and Mansfield area, is to help students finish their baccalaureate degree with the least amount of credits and the least amount of debt.”

UTA advisers keep regular office hours on local community college campuses to help students plan their move to UTA.

“Having a UTA adviser on our campus helps us identify students who want to go to UTA and get them on a pathway so all their credits transfer to UTA without taking additional courses,” Coppola says.

Clearing the way

TransferUTA streamlines resources for transfer students to provide the most efficient route to earning a degree. Potential students can access the collected information at uta.edu/transferuta.

New University offerings through TransferUTA include tailored degree plans for students who hold associate degrees from community colleges.

“Transfer students are talented and motivated,” Dr. Purgason says. “These students have achieved success in college and are now looking to UTA to solidify that progress into a four-year degree. The last thing we want standing in their way are any logistical barriers or difficulties. TransferUTA is tailored to the unique stages a transfer student experiences and is made to be student-facing. The easier we can make the process for transfer students, the better their UTA experience will be.”

TransferUTA also provides continuous support for transfer students once they’ve arrived. Marcus Braymer, a senior double majoring in criminal justice and political science, transferred to UTA from Tarrant County College. He uses his experience as a transfer student to help others, working as a transition leader. Transition leaders at UTA offer support to transfer students as they make the transition to the University.

“Moving from a community college to a four-year college or any other institution is a little bit difficult,” he says. “It’s also frustrating because students know where they want to go, but don’t know where the resources are.”

Raymund A. Paredes, Texas Commissioner for Higher Education, commended UTA on its transfer initiatives.

“We must forge new, innovative programs to rapidly expand the pipeline of students pursuing college degrees,” Dr. Paredes says. “UTA is pressing ahead with creative efforts to engage two-year college students early to ensure they have the support they need to complete a four-year degree.”

In addition to added support services, UTA is working to better facilitate the transfer transition by offering improved access to those resources. This summer, the University opened the new Academic Plaza located on the Central Library’s second floor, designed as a one-stop resource for tutoring, group supplemental instruction, and other academic support services. A concierge-style information desk welcomes transfer students and connects them with services to enhance student success.

Peer mentoring services are also available at the library through the new I.D.E.A.S. Center, which was created in part through a $2.62 million Department of Education grant to enhance services for transfer and other non-traditional students and help more underserved students earn college degrees.

Improving college completion

About 50 percent of transfer students graduate four years after they enter UTA, but administrators are aiming to accelerate that timing.

“UTA is pressing ahead with creative efforts to engage two-year college students early to ensure they have the support they need to complete a four-year degree.”

“UTA will always welcome increasing numbers of transfer students, but we will be emphasizing ways to support students to ensure that they are successful and that they complete their degrees,” says Purgason, who earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in biology at UTA. “It’s about both access for students to get here and support for students to leave here successfully and make their way toward their next or first job.”

And that’s just what Moreno is focused on: finishing her degree and preparing for her next professional move. Her unconventional route to UTA helped her to realize a truth that underscores every student’s college experience, transfer or otherwise.

“Everybody’s path is different,” Moreno says. “You take more time than someone else, you take less time than someone else, but eventually you get to your goal, which is earning your degree.”

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