Broken transfer systems are a barrier to fair outcomes

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When Massachusetts adopted its equity program for public higher education, it pledged to produce racially equitable outcomes while increasing overall graduation. With racial equity being the top policy and system performance priority, we collectively engaged in professional development with Dr. Shaun Harper of the University of Southern California. Center for race and fairness. We knew we had to change the system that had failed too many students of color. To do THIS kind of work, we had to learn to recognize systemic barriers in order to successfully dismantle them.

The transfer is part of this system. The Commonwealth has long been engaged in initiatives to improve student mobility. The first one Commonwealth Transfer Pact (CTC) was established in 1974! The CLC granted students a full junior level if they completed an associate’s degree at a community college, maintained a GPA of 2.0, and achieved a minimum of 35 basic general education credits. Most of our policies today are variations on this theme. Our Foundation for general education, formerly known as MassTransfer Block, formerly known as Core, remain largely unchanged. Why is the name changing? When we spoke with students, they told us they thought Mass transfer block meant that their classes were blocked of the transfer. In reality, the Bloc was the opposite of that, but we have learned that when we engage students in the policy-making conversation and center them in our decision-making, a whole new world is revealed.

In addition to the Gen Ed Foundation, the current Commonwealth Mass Transfer Program has a reverse transfer path, statewide transfer pathways in over 40 disciplines, an equivalency database of statewide courses, a program to improve graduation for transfer students called Commonwealth Commitment, and Suite. The state has invested an incredible amount of time, energy, and resources to expand options and improve transfer student outcomes.

This work is directly linked to our broader racial equity goals through two major initiatives currently underway. The New Undergraduate Experience (NUE) brought together students, faculty, staff, administrators, community leaders, industry partners, K-12 colleagues and nonprofit friends responsible for developing recommendations that would recognize the cultural richness of students, transform teaching and learning. , and align the system and institutional efforts to create student-ready campuses. NUE looked at all aspects of the undergraduate experience, including the transfer, and we came to the conclusion that we need to do better. When racial equity becomes THE priority, everything changes. As policy makers, we are excited about NUE’s recommendation to develop a statewide dual admission program. But we also know that developing technical requirements for a new program will not be enough. Students told us that the sense of belonging on campus matters as much as the mechanisms of transfer. Focusing students in the development of our program requires us to broaden our thinking about what constitutes student success.

While NUE represents a major engagement with external stakeholders, internal efforts are underway to conduct a fairness check for all policies and programs aimed at students. Department staff feel prepared to conduct the audit through a racial equity lens due to our professional development, and we also recognize that learning about the impact of white supremacist culture on the higher education is a permanent project for us and for our students. The audit is informed by the racial equity principles which aim to assist in the cultural transformation of the Department, as well as to anchor the equity agenda in equity-driven change. The MassTransfer team is reviewing every policy and program related to transfer, and together with colleagues across the agency, will soon come up with a new policy program aimed at centering racially minority students and eliminating racial disparities.

The ultimate goal is to eliminate the need for an equity program. Efforts to achieve racial equity should never be an addition, but the center of our work in higher education. In Massachusetts, we have the opportunity to redesign our system and our Students of Color Center. Student mobility and transfer is essential to rebuilding our higher education system which is necessary to achieve our goal of producing racially equitable results in higher education.


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