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National center at UNG focuses on transfer students

Students take part in T-SOAR, Transfer Student Orientation Advising and Registration, recently at the University of North Georgia. According to national studies, 1 in 3 college seniors has transferred to another school during their college career.

About one-third of all college seniors have transferred to another school at some point during their college career, and the leader of the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students (NISTS) said this is the "new normal" for many students.

Dr. Janet Marling, executive director of NISTS, which is based at the University of North Georgia, just completed a new volume for the New Directions for Higher Education series that highlights the need for more study on this issue. Marling edited the volume "Collegiate Transfer: Navigating the New Normal," and contributed an article. Some of the volume's articles are based on new research; each year, NISTS also sponsors two research studies.

Higher education often has fallen short in addressing the specific issues faced by students who change schools, but Marling said that trend is shifting.

"That's why this volume is called 'Navigating the New Normal,' because transferring is the new normal. Students transfer and obtain credits from multiple institutions," Marling said. "Before, it was almost as if there was a huge stigma attached to it, because it was believed students transferred because they couldn't handle the academic load. Now, more students, including members of the military and adult learners, are planning transfers for a variety of reasons."

Some 41 percent of community college students nationwide transfer to four-year institutions. From summer 2009 to spring 2013, 906 Gainesville State College students transferred to North Georgia College & State University, averaging about 145 every fall semester. That made Gainesville State the leading feeder school to North Georgia; Georgia Perimeter College was a distant second with 248 students in four years.

Marling said she's excited about the opportunity UNG, created in January 2013 from the consolidation of Gainesville State and North Georgia, has to lead the way in transfer policy and practice.

"We're fortunate to be at UNG during a really important time in our institution's history," Marling said. "A significant benefit of consolidating is to give students options – you can start here and finish over here. If we can remove the barriers and establish very smooth pathways and policies that support those pathway changes, it's going to be amazing for our students."

A recent report produced by The College Board shows that up to 80 percent of undergraduate students beginning their college careers at a two-year school are interested in earning a four-year degree, but only 20 percent do so. In Georgia alone nearly 1 million working Georgians, 22 percent of the workforce, have earned some college credit, but have not completed a degree.

"The big question is what are we failing to do that could increase the number of people who would carry out that goal of earning a degree?" Marling said. "The institute's job is to help institutions understand how to make that transition as smooth as possible. We need to be talking about transfer as a natural pathway to a degree; it should be a part of our conversation in higher education. If your goal is to a get a degree, there are multiple ways to accomplish that goal."

Last summer, NISTS moved to Georgia from Texas, where it was established in 2002. The institute, which falls under UNG's Office of Executive Affairs, continues to contribute to the national discussion, but also has spent the past year working on regional initiatives such as Complete College Georgia and the North Georgia Regional Education and Economic Development (REED) Task Force.

In his article for the publication, "Successful Transitions From Two-Year to Four-Year Institutions," Thomas J. Grites, assistant provost at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, wrote that ensuring the success of transfer students requires collaboration.

"Students' success cannot be left to chance or assumptions," he wrote. "Systematic, strategic and timely interventions must be developed, implemented and assessed in order to establish a positive culture of transfer that enables these students to meet their goals, as well as those of legislatures, accrediting bodies and employers. There are many stakeholders in this endeavor, and the stakes are high. Therefore, we must collaborate and plan carefully to ensure such success."

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