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NISTS conference aims to improve transfer students' college experience

 NISTS conference aims to improve transfer students' college experience
National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students staff, from left, Judith Brauer, associate director; Dr. Janet Marling, executive director; and Emily Kittrell, assistant director.

When it comes to welcoming students to college, many institutions of higher learning give incoming freshmen the lion's share of attention.

Transfer students? Not so much.

Nationally, one out of every three college students will transfer at least once during the course of their studies for a variety of personal, academic, and financial reasons.

At the University of North Georgia (UNG), the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students (NISTS), is helping to make clear transfer pathways a national priority. NISTS was specifically created to educate and empower professionals to meet the needs of transfer students and is preparing to host its 16th annual conference, Feb. 7-9 in Atlanta.

NISTS was founded in 2002 by Dr. Bonita Jacobs, president of UNG, in response to a lack of professional development opportunities and research literature focused on transfer students. Through research, education and advocacy, NISTS supports professionals in higher education who directly serve transfer students, including those who create transfer policy and engage in research that benefits transfer students.

Janet Marling, NISTS executive director since 2011, said that UNG is uniquely positioned as an "idea incubator" for programs, services, and policies intended to help transfer students succeed and flourish; and as a resource for institutions across the state of Georgia.

“We know that national and statewide college completion agendas cannot be accomplished without intentional efforts to ensure transfer students meet, and exceed, their goals," Marling said. "UNG’s unique complexion as a consolidated institution gives rise to new opportunities to study transfer and use what we learn locally to inform the national transfer agenda. The annual conference provides an outlet to showcase our efforts, and those of our peers, while solidifying UNG as a national leader in transfer student success.” 

Emily Kittrell, assistant director at NISTS, said an important aspect of the NISTS conference is the National Transfer Student Ambassador program. This year, four students were selected to represent the heart of NISTS’s work advancing transfer student success. “Although each student’s path is unique, their stories combine to create a striking image of the reality many transfer students face today," said Kittrell.” These students’ transfer journeys are documented on the NISTS blog.  

Highlighting students’ stories is critical, but there is also a constant need to debunk certain myths about transfer students and making them feel part of the university "family."

"It’s easy to assume that transfer students know what to do during the enrollment process and inside the classroom,” Kittrell said. "But because transfer is so unique--among individuals, between institutions, and across state systems—what works in making a first-time college freshman feel welcome and informed in a new setting doesn't necessarily work with transfer students."

The NISTS conference brings together university administrators, faculty, academic advisors, admissions personnel, financial aid specialists and others who interact with transfer students for three days of immersion in new practices, research, policies and partnerships. The conference features workshops, panel discussions, expert presentations, a strategy session, networking opportunities and program tracks in academic advising, enrollment management, orientation and transition, transfer policy and student success.

The conference's keynote speaker, Dr. Michelle Asha Cooper, is the president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP), one of the nation's most effective voices in championing access and success for all students in postsecondary education. Cooper has created and maintained strong partnerships with national and international leaders in business, civic and educational communities.

"There's a complexity to transfer students that makes this conference relevant; each transfer student has different needs, no two are the same," NISTS Associate Director Judith Brauer said. "Transfer students have to navigate between institutions where not all of their course credits transfer, course requirements for their chosen degree can vary greatly, and financial obligations can pose an increased burden on them. NISTS is there to help higher education professionals ease the transition for these students."

Conference registration remains open with unique full- and one-day rates for UNG affiliates.  For more information, visit the NISTS conference website.

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