Supporting Transfer Students' Education Goals: The Evolution of Cal Poly Pomona's Transfer Program

By Norma Leon, Educational Assessment & Transition Coordinator, and Dr. Lorena Márquez, PolyTransfer Coordinator, at Cal Poly Pomona

In December 2017, teams of faculty, staff, and administrators from 13 CSU campuses met in Long Beach to share strategies to strengthen transfer programs to improve student success. At the convening, which was organized by the CSU Student Success Network and hosted by CSU Long Beach, campus teams described a range of services at their campus directed toward improving the on-boarding of transfer students, but there were fewer examples of services focused on increasing persistence and completion, including career guidance. Afterwards, the teams expressed interest in learning more about the PolyTransfer Center at Cal Poly Pomona (CPP). This blog describes the evolution of CPP’s approach to supporting transfer students, including its Transfer Center. 

Transfer students at Cal Poly Pomona (CPP) were historically perceived as needing less attention in their college journey (compared with first-year students) because the transfer students already had college experience. As a result, CPP’s primary services to support transfer focused on students’ procedural transition to the university. This included developing articulation agreements with community colleges to facilitate transfer of credits and helping transfer students interpret their earned credits. CPP’s approach began to change about a decade ago, when the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) began providing EOP transfer students with dedicated services. 

As a comprehensive support program, EOP has established a strong record of providing low-income and first-generation students, including transfer students, with admissions assistance, advisement, and academic tutoring. By 2008, EOP staff realized that transfer students had unique challenges and introduced group advising specifically for EOP transfer students. The advising model is tailored to address each cohort’s needs at specific times each year as the students progress toward graduation, including preparation for graduation and for the workforce. 

CSU Campuses Vary in Graduation Rates for Transfer Students
About half of CSU students transfer from a community college. The rate of graduation within two years for transfer students at CSU averages 33%, and campuses range from a low of 10% to a high of 55% (2014 cohort). Systemwide, the two-year graduation rate for transfer students is 27% for blacks, 28% for Asian/Pacific Islanders, 33% for Hispanics, and 36% for whites. These rates, too, vary by campus. 
Source: CSU Institutional Research and Analyses

In 2013, EOP added a Transfer Bridge program, a summer transition program designed exclusively for incoming EOP transfer students. The three-day program addresses these students’ needs, including transfer shock, job and graduate school preparation, a Graduation Writing Test (GWT) workshop, transfer credit and degree progress interpretation, and community building with peers and program staff. Over the past five years, the program has shown that incoming transfer students are eager to: 

  • connect to their new campus and with faculty, staff, and peers;
  • participate in transition services;
  • receive detailed information pertinent to their educational journey; and
  • experience residential life at the university.

In 2014, CPP professor Terri Gomez built on EOP’s successful programs for transfer students by launching a new PolyTransfer Center dedicated to supporting all transfer students in reaching their educational goals at CPP. That summer, PolyTransfer began offering a three-day transition program targeted for underrepresented transfer students who were not in EOP. One effect of this expansion of the EOP program was to create a cohort of transfer students that was already connected to PolyTransfer and eager to participate in services throughout the year. 

As with EOP, PolyTransfer is a strengths-based model that cultivates a sense of belonging as participants transition to, and remain at, CPP. We know that “students who feel securely connected in an environment or group…tend to have higher self-concepts, greater confidence in their academic skills, and rate their college experiences as satisfactory” (Strayhorn 2012). Other key purposes of PolyTransfer include fostering a transfer-receptive culture on campus and institutionalizing policies and practices, including through collaborations that support persistence, learning, and enhanced academic and social integration into the university. The Center is located near the heart of the campus and serves over 1,200 transfer students (including alumni) and their families annually, including about 120 in its summer transition program. Dedicating a physical space to transfer sends an important message, to students and the campus at large that transfer students matter. When faculty and staff participate in PolyTransfer activities, they are visiting transfer students “in their home” and are becoming part of their community. 

As with other university services targeting specific populations, one challenge with having a dedicated PolyTransfer Program is that it brings with it a perception that all the needs of transfer students are being met. Staffing at the Center, however, remains limited. Programs feature peer mentoring, study halls, and coaching and support (as well as the summer transition program). Transfer students access advisement, academic tutoring, and other support services elsewhere, which makes partnerships across campus all the more important, so that faculty and staff understand that PolyTransfer enhances but does not supplant their work. 

When the CPP team returned from the Long Beach convening on transfer, several of us formed a PolyTransfer Advisory Council (PAC), a committee of faculty and staff dedicated to strengthening collaborations and services on campus to support transfer students. We are developing a needs assessment to understand transfer student populations, and we are working with deans, faculty, and staff to create activities to engage transfer students at each college. We are also examining program outcomes. For example, we’ve found that first-year persistence rates for EOP transfer students increased from 83% in 2013 (the EOP transfer program’s first year) to 96% in 2016, surpassing the persistence rate for the general student population, which remained at 90% and 91% during these four years. 

CPP still has a long way to go to support all transfer students’ learning goals and facilitate their timely graduation, but our hope in sharing this information is that other CSU campuses benefit from learning about these services, just as we look forward to hearing about practices that support transfer students at other campuses. 

Resources

Strayhorn, T., Hurtado, S., & Harris, Q. (2012). College students' sense of belonging: A key to educational success for all students. New York, NY: Routledge. 


The CSU Student Success Network is an independent network developed by CSU faculty, staff, and administrators to build on their collective work to support student success and close opportunity gaps. The Network is facilitated by EdInsights. Email studentsuccessnetwork@edinsightscenter.org to receive information about Network activities.