For many students who begin their higher education experience at a community college, trying to determine which classes to take and how these courses will transfer to a four-year degree program can feel like a daunting task. With a mission of addressing this pain point, the New Jersey Commission on Higher Education partnered with the New Jersey President’s Council to launch the New Jersey Statewide Transfer Initiative. This initiative is designed to promote enrollment at local community colleges and to support a streamlined transfer process to a New Jersey college or university. Launched in 2001, the NJ Transfer website provides an online tool to help students determine which course credits can be transferred from a New Jersey community college to a participating four-year institution in the State. The web resource also provides contact information for admissions at a New Jersey college or university, information about recruitment events, and shares which majors and programs students can apply to at each institution.
One of the biggest drivers of the Initiative was to encourage high school students to pursue their higher education in New Jersey and later begin their careers locally. “One of our number one exports is 18-year-olds, where high school graduates leave the state for college, and often do not return,” says Joe Rearden, Vice President Administration & Finance, General Counsel, and Chief Financial Officer. “The New Jersey Statewide Transfer Initiative brought people together to put a system in place that would give students the resources and information that they need to plan out the college process much more easily.”
Improving the Transfer Student Experience
The confusing experience of trying to map out your own college trajectory was one that Thea Olsen, Program Director of NJ Transfer Initiative, Edge, remembers well. “I am from South Jersey and attended Camden County College. I had a similar experience that many transfer students can attest to, where you are flying blind and making uneducated decisions. I ended up transferring to Drexel University and after receiving my bachelor’s and master’s Degrees, I began working at the University in the Office of Transfer and Commuter Student Engagement. I’ve not only had the transfer experience as a student myself, but I have also worked in all the roles that are involved in the transfer student life cycle, from the enrollment funnel to the academic student support services. There is definitely a void in support services for transfer students; they often consider themselves to be a marginalized student population. As I came into my current role over a year ago, finding out about NJ Transfer was just a huge ah-ha moment.”
NJ Transfer is only one of a few statewide online tools that provide course and academic program information for students transferring to a four-year institution. “From an advisor’s standpoint, having NJ Transfer at your fingertips is a hugely valuable resource,” says Olsen. “To discover an up-to-date database of multiple equivalencies that an advisor or transfer admissions counselor could refer to when needed was just a mind-blowing experience. If I had known about NJ Transfer as a student, this resource would have likely changed my trajectory of most of my community college experience, which in my case was Camden County College. I would’ve been able to go on the site, identify how my credits transferred to the partnered institutions’, and once I changed my major, I could have potentially made more educated decisions about the courses that I was taking in relationship to my chosen four-year institutions. From a student perspective, NJ Transfer is a very valuable navigational and academic planning tool. Not all transfer students seek out their academic advisor, so having a website with all the necessary information is extremely important.”
Expanding Awareness and Education
NJ Transfer works closely with institutions of higher education to ensure the optimal transferability of academic credit is possible and that faculty and staff understand how to utilize the site and take full advantage of the information provided. “In working with institutions, I share best practices for using NJ Transfer and help them relay course information and equivalencies to students in a clear and digestible way,” shares Olsen. “Four-year institutions also use the site to re-review an entire content area. For example, a school can type anthropology into the keyword and pull up all the community colleges that have anthropology in the title. They can then take this information back to their faculty, review the course in detail, and discuss if more direct equivalencies are possible. For community colleges, this process can be reversed to ensure their courses are current on the site to identify if any of the courses have undergone changes in content that may positively impact students transfer credit outcomes and resubmit them as revised.”
Recently, NJ Transfer joined Edge as an affiliated organization, and with this move, Edge will be focusing on improving the user experience and helping to drive the initiative forward. “We will be rebranding the website and print materials to bring the NJ Transfer interface, the visual user experience of the site, and the marketing materials into the year 2021,” says Olsen. “I will also be offering training to those who work closely with our web system to ensure there is a consistency of knowledge across the board. Specifically, I would like to start educating a wider array of staff members in different departments at 4- and 2-year institutions so they can confidently share their knowledge with students and train others on the site’s capabilities.”
Olsen says that building the knowledge and awareness of NJ Transfer is a grassroots effort, since information often travels across campuses by word of mouth. “As more students use NJ Transfer, there is a greater probability that they’re mentioning the web resource to other students. If a recruiter sits down with a high school student who wishes to attend community college, the recruiter can showcase the site and explain how to find the information that they need. Ultimately, I want to expand the level of knowledge regarding NJ Transfer and the number of people who have that knowledge, and empower recruiters, transfer counselors, and college success professors to use the planning tool in the classroom and relay the value of the resource to students.”
Fostering a Holistic Approach
A long-term goal included in transforming NJ Transfer is to offer informative workshops to high school guidance counselors so more students can learn about the planning tool early on. “We want to capture the whole transfer student experience from that early moment they decide to attend community college, through earning their associate’s degree, then on to their first day at their chosen 4-year college or university,” says Olsen. “NJ Transfer is much more than an academic planning tool. The site offers a convenient one-stop resource for transfer-specific points of contact where students can begin to cultivate their support network of staff at both the 2-year and 4-year level; helping them to make more informed decisions about their future.”
Olsen will also continue to connect with partner institutions to better understand their individual needs and how to improve the solutions and services offered. “I look forward to strengthening the current working relationships with partner institutions and also building bridges to new groups of people. By gaining a deeper understanding of the community’s needs and challenges, we can enhance the features and functionality of NJ Transfer and collaboratively improve the transfer student experience in New Jersey.”
To learn more about NJ Transfer and how students, parents, faculty, and staff can use the resource to create a comprehensive college plan, visit www.njtransfer.org.