Report Spotlights Promising Practices for Supporting Oregon's Transfer Students

January 2020
illustration of four diverse students standing together

Transferring from a community college to a university can be challenging. Without adequate support—as well as practices and policies that set them up for success—community college students may struggle to transfer and earn a bachelor’s degree.

According to the Beginning Postsecondary Student study, which has been surveying first-time undergraduates since 1989, over 70 percent of first-time community college students consistently expect to earn at least a bachelor’s degree—but less than 25 percent end up transferring to a four-year institution within five years, and bachelor’s degree completion hovers around 10 percent.

In recognition of this important issue, The Ford Family Foundation commissioned a collaborative research project to better understand the transfer landscape in Oregon and the positive role postsecondary institutions play in supporting transfer students.

The resulting report presents the findings from case studies of three universities and three community colleges: Oregon State University, the University of Oregon, Western Oregon University, Linn-Benton Community College, Rogue Community College, and Southwestern Oregon Community College.

Researchers conducted one-day site visits at all six schools, during which they spoke to staff members, faculty members, and administrators. At the three universities, they also spoke to transfer students.


Across the case study institutions, the research team found that strong transfer culture tends to involve the following:

  • Data use to accurately identify the proportion of students who plan to transfer to a university or who have transferred from a community college—and to better understand the supports these students need
  • Advising systems, specifically, ensuring advisors are working together across systems and are available to support students at every step of their postsecondary journey from community college enrollment to bachelor’s degree completion
  • Clear transfer pathways, which are due to consistent collaboration between community college and university partners, technology that facilitates credit transfer, and a focus on student success

In addition, the report describes the importance of transfer-specific supports, such as personalized advising, clear online tools to support self-advising, flexible financial aid and scholarship processes, and transfer-specific programming and spaces.

For instance, one University of Oregon transfer student said the Nontraditional Student Union “was the biggest thing that helped me transition. I met other people that were going through the same thing, and also it was like a hub for resources.”

Next Steps

Looking ahead, the research team hopes to support the state in acting on three main recommendations described in the report:

  • Invest in credit transfer and degree-audit technology
  • Invest in more supports for transfer students
  • Develop and maintain transfer pathways, including the new statewide core and major transfer maps

Further, in early February, The Ford Family Foundation and Education Northwest will host a convening focused on Oregon transfer student success.

The objectives for the convening include building connections between higher education practitioners working on transfer across Oregon and determining how to deepen support for transfer students statewide.

Education Northwest looks forward to continuing to partner with The Ford Family Foundation and other stakeholders to examine this important issue—and ultimately help set up all transfer students for success.