Spotlight on Innovation: How Kennesaw’s TAG Program is Creating Better Degree Completion Pathways for Transfer Students

SPOTLIGHT ON INNOVATION SERIES

The US Department of Education has awarded multi-million dollar "First in the World" grants to 24 colleges and universities that are innovating to solve critical challenges with access, recruitment, retention, and student success. At AI, we have interviewed each of the recipients to learn more about the projects these institutions are pursuing, how their approaches are unique, and what other colleges and universities can learn from these new efforts.

by Daniel Fusch, Academic Impressions

Transfer student support has seen something of a revolution over the last decade, as colleges have become increasingly aware that transfer students make up over 60% of all American undergraduates enrolled at four-year institutions, and that transfers often arrive without the system of peer support and transitional support services that have been made available to many first-year students. Many institutions, especially state flagships, have put in place robust transfer student support services or, in a few cases, established one-stop transfer student centers on campus.

The one-stop approach for transfers remains rare, however, and it is more often that transfer student support is handled out of one department or office on campus. Bucking this trend is Kennesaw State University, which, with the aid of a $3.2 million First in the World grant, is putting in place the Transfer Advocacy Gateway (TAG), a new program that will bring together an array of campus services to provide a more streamlined pathway to degree completion for transfer students at Kennesaw State.

TAG builds on the past success of Kennesaw State's RRPG program (recruitment, retention, and progression to graduation for Hispanic students) and is guided by Complete College Georgia, the state's degree completion initiative, and by a study the university conducted ("Transforming the Transfer Experience") that made specific recommendations for serving the university's transfer student population. The university estimates that over the four years of the grant, TAG will serve up to 4,000 students.

Jennifer Wade-Berg, assistant professor of human services and campus executive director of the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance at Kennesaw State, shared with us some of the details of the project.

What the One-Stop Approach Entails

"We're really focusing on tighter partnerships with our feeder institutions and with nonprofit organizations in the community. Looking at two-year students who then want to come to Kennesaw, we need a more direct mechanism for getting those students into the process while they are still enrolled in their two-year colleges. Our service delivery model, based on the RRPG program, recognizes that students need to have a more streamlined process—not handed off from person to person to person."
Jennifer Wade-Berg, Kennesaw State University

Those feeder institutions are Georgia Perimeter College, Chattahoochee Technical College and Georgia Highlands College, and Kennesaw State University's new approach is to ensure that students have one point of contact at their two-year college who can guide them through the entire transfer and financial aid process, followed by comprehensive support at the university to guide them toward graduation. For TAG, this involves:

  • Adding key staff positions
  • Establishing specially designed learning communities and systems for peer support

Adding Key Staff Positions

To proceed, Kennesaw State is adding these full-time staff:

  • Transfer (TAG) Enrollment Services Specialists who will work on the feeder campuses, providing advising and financial aid information to students and advising them to finish their associate degree prior to transfer.
  • Transfer (TAG) Graduation Coaches on the Kennesaw State campus. Students will be assigned a coach who will provide advice, workshops, and developmental and professional advising -- both academic and personal.

Wade-Berg emphasizes that key to the project's success will be close discussion between the transfer (TAG) enrollment service specialist and the transfer (TAG) graduation coach. "There has to be a seamless continuum of support for the student," she suggests. "This can't just be a hand-off. These professionals need a close working relationship, and we also don't want each professional who interacts with the student to have to recreate information on the student."

Adding Learning Communities

Citing learning communities as a high-impact practice, Wade-Berg also notes that TAG will involve developing specially-designed learning communities, "Flourishing at KSU," that have been created around the positive psychology literature. The idea is to offer a transfer student seminar that prompts students to examine personal strengths, interests, skills, knowledge, and information to be successful in a major or chosen career while promoting engagement in campus and community activities. The second course in the learning community is a general education course focused on wellness. The intent is for the faculty teaching at the learning community and the graduation coach to be in close contact.

While the details are yet to be worked out, there will also be significant peer mentoring opoortunities offered to transfer students, as well as co-curricular experiences to support their academic, personal and career needs.

What You Should Watch

We asked Jennifer Wade-Berg what other institutions should learn from TAG.

She advises: "Watch how this model impacts retention, progression and graduation rates as well as how it impacts organizational accountability. KSU will continue to examine its organizational structures within the institution to see how they impact student success."

"You need to have the courage to change paradigms to meet the needs of students. In my estimation, KSU has such courage."
Jennifer Wade-Berg, Kennesaw State University

At AI, we are excited to watch TAG develop over the next few years!

Has your own institution piloted successful initiatives to improve graduation rates for transfer students, involving collaboration across departments or across schools? We'd love to hear more. If you have a story of innovation you would like to share, you can reach me at daniel@academicimpressions.com.