Strengthening transfer pathways between two-year and independent not-for-profit four-year institutions is one under-utilized way to increase transfer and bachelor’s degree completion. Independent colleges offer high graduation rates, flexible degree options, and personalized supports that can assist students looking to complete a four-year degree. Increasing transfer to these institutions at scale can be accomplished through state- or consortium-wide pathways that link all community colleges in a state to a critical number of independent four-year institutions. 

The Teagle Foundation and Arthur Vining Davis Foundations have undertaken a five-year initiative to create statewide transfer pathways in 20 states and increase the number of community college transfer students who earn a bachelor’s degree at institutions that emphasize the liberal arts. The foundations are supporting state and regional associations pursuing a variety of transfer strategies, including guaranteed admission and discipline-specific pathways from community colleges to independent colleges. 

Ithaka S+R is serving as the foundations’ independent evaluator and is conducting a three-year mixed methods assessment of the initiative. We have already contracted with the National Student Clearinghouse and provided participating state associations and institutions with baseline reports of community college enrollment, transfer, and completion. The next phase of the quantitative evaluation involves developing a template that will allow institutions to track progress and measure the initiative’s impact in the years ahead through their own regular reporting.  

In addition to assisting with data collection and reporting, today we are releasing a playbook that draws on the experiences of four grantees who are further along in the planning and implementation process for their transfer initiatives. We hope that the playbook will serve as a resource for independent institutions and their state or regional associations as they seek to increase community college transfer and completion on a sector-wide or consortial basis. 

The playbook describes three key component for structuring a program: 

  1. Engage in collective goal setting. Determining the goals of a transfer initiative often involves extensive conversation and alignment between participating independent institutions, community colleges, state organizations, legislators, and funders. Project leaders also need to examine the state and regional context and use guiding principles to center equity and student success. 
  2. Establish an infrastructure. Implementing a successful transfer initiative requires buy-in from multiple stakeholders at the institution level, including community college and independent college faculty, staff, and leadership. Initiatives can also benefit from partnerships with external subject matter experts and clear project management structures.
  3. Adopt a strategy for sustainability. Keeping an initiative going involves marketing to potential community college transfer students and ensuring that the needed supports are in place for them once they reach the independent institution. Project leaders also need to consider how to maintain any developed pathways and/or policies and how to evaluate the progress of their initiative. 

This playbook will be supplemented as we continue to draw on lessons from additional states and provide updates on the initiative’s progress and success. All resources related to our work, including the data collection templates, sample baseline reports, playbooks, and other resources, will be published on our landing pageWe welcome any engagement with this work and invite you to reach out via email to