The Mixed Methods Blog
Relationships Matter for Transfer Outcomes (and Everything Else)
It’s probably not news to anyone that relationships matter in life. They serve as conduits for information and often shape access to opportunities. In a new article published in the current issue of Community College Review, I and my co-authors Shanna Smith Jaggars and Negar Farakish examine how relationships with assigned advisors and the personalized advisement that resulted from these relationships were positively correlated with a higher likelihood of transfer to four-year colleges and of transfer to more selective four-year colleges, from which students have higher odds of graduating.
We found that students with assigned advisors had—no shock—greater and more consistent access to those advisors than students without assigned advisors, and the continuity of that advising relationship meant students had better information about transfer requirements. The relationship also helped students develop confidence that they were well prepared for successful transfer and encouraged them to reach higher in their transfer aspirations and apply to colleges they may not have considered without the support.
Transfer from a community to four-year college is a complex process that is very difficult for students to navigate successfully on their own. Students need information about transfer requirements and the logistics of the transfer process, but information alone is insufficient to improve transfer outcomes. Students need relationships with advisors (and faculty, staff, and students) to build aspirations and develop the confidence to convert often unfamiliar information into a transfer plan. Relationships with college staff can also serve as a carrot for seeking out help. Wouldn’t you prefer to go to someone that you know and who knows you to seek advice and guidance? In short, we found that transfer support must be both structural (i.e., with resources and systems to help students prepare for transfer) and relational.
Other researchers, including Estela Bensimon and colleagues and Annette Lareau, also highlight the importance of relationships with institutional agents for postsecondary success, particularly for first-generation students, whose family members may lack the knowledge to help them navigate college. For such students, stumbling into the path of a supportive advisor or faculty member who takes a special interest in them and guides them can be transformational. Unfortunately, connecting with an institutional agent is often a matter of luck, and the majority of community college students are not lucky in this regard. Although 80% of students entering community colleges aspire to transfer, only about 31% transfer within six years of initial enrollment, and only a minority of students ever speak to an advisor about transfer.
But building connections with institutional agents doesn’t need to be a matter of luck. CCRC’s framework for the college onboarding process, Ask-Connect-Inspire-Plan (ACIP), is also animated by the belief that community and relationships are critical to community college student success and that developing relationships should not happen only for a few lucky students. The ACIP model provides a framework in which students are consistently asked about their purpose in college and their goals; connected with faculty, staff and students who share their interests and may serve as sources of information and guidance; inspired through rigorous and exciting coursework; and supported to build a full program plan from entry through transfer (or transition to the workforce).
Our article suggests that while relationships are key to strong transfer outcomes, community college students’ opportunities to form relationships with faculty and staff on campus are often haphazard. Some students are lucky enough to come under the wing of supportive advisors or faculty members, but many are not. The ACIP model provides a framework for changing college culture into one where all faculty and staff are responsible for learning about students' interests and goals and guiding them to achieve their desired outcomes.