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Students shine with transfer majors

Date: Wednesday, April 13, 2022

At first glance, Iowa State University psychology majors Taylor Mathis and Chasity Foster are very different. Mathis is a 20-year-old student finding her way in her post-high school years while Foster is an adult learner looking to make a bold career change. However, both women share a similar bond: They are students who have successfully transferred from an Iowa community college.

Mathis and Foster both transferred from Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) and like other transfer students, found many advantages to beginning their academic journey outside of a traditional four-year institution.

Taylor Mathis

“I saved a lot of money,” Mathis said. “It allowed me to work and still live at home while earning my associate degree. I was able to explore the psychology field and see what I liked and didn’t like.

“It also gave me valuable time to grow and explore.”

Iowa is one of the leading states in the nation for transfer student success. Compared to approximately 40 percent nationally, over 52 percent of students who start at an Iowa community college and move onward to a four-year U.S. institution graduate with a bachelor’s degree within three years.

“There has been a dedicated effort in Iowa to create a better transfer experience for students,” said Kelly Friesleben, education consultant at the Iowa Department of Education. “Our goal is to streamline the transfer process and ensure students avoid taking unnecessary credits once they move to the four-year institution.”

Beginning in 2018, the Iowa Department of Education, Board of Regents, regent institutions and Iowa’s 15 community colleges have worked together to develop transfer major programs. The group has helped identify what credits would easily transfer within a specific discipline to each of the state’s three public universities and defined what requirements were needed for each transfer major. As a result, there are currently 28 potential disciplines that community colleges can offer as transfer majors.

Students can now earn credits in a specific major as a part of an Associate of Arts (AA) or Associate of Science (AS) degree that can then be transferred easily to a four-year school. While at DMACC, both Mathis and Foster earned an AA degree with a transfer major in psychology.

“As a psychology transfer major, I knew that 100 percent of my credits would transfer to the main universities in Iowa,” Mathis said. “It was great to know the requirements for my degree and track every 
credit to know which class to take during what period of time.”

The number of total overall transfer credits accepted by Iowa’s four-year institutions vary, but out of those credits, transfer students can apply a minimum of 18 towards their specific discipline. This helps to maintain a student’s focus on their field of interest and adequately prepares them for their course of study at a four-year school.

“This better prepares students for a specific discipline,” Friesleben said. “Students can feel confident that they are ready for their junior year at the four-year institution.”

Chasity Foster

For Foster, becoming a student after working for several years was relatively easy with support provided by transfer programs.

“The community colleges are well-versed in transfers,” she said. “I had a great support network. It got me into a good flow and structure of attending classes. It helped prepare me for Iowa State.”

Compared to 2,214 students the year prior, fall 2021 saw 3,841 students enroll in transfer major programs such as biology, engineering, criminal justice and more. Academic advisors play a valuable role in supporting these transfer students and ensuring they are maximizing their credits and schedules. With this guidance, students are able to stay on their dedicated pathways to their academic and career goals.

“As advisors, we want to provide the right information so students can graduate on time and reach their goals,” said Terry Kruse, academic advisor at Iowa State University (ISU). “However you start your college career, no one wants to waste a lot of time taking classes they don’t need.”

Advisors like Kruse assist students with transitioning to the four-year institution and enrolling in classes. They can help students more easily acclimate to their new campus life, transfer credits and stay on track.

“Transfer students are unique; there is no one-size fits all,” Kruse said. “They transfer for many reasons or have even transferred more than once. We can help them set realistic expectations, choose the correct classes for their schedule and earn that degree.”

The designation of transfer majors is truly a joint effort between community colleges and four-year institutions. Discussion continues on what new transfer majors may be included in the future, and work is now being done to connect community college transfer programs with Iowa’s four-year private colleges. Through transfer majors, community colleges and four-year institutions will have new opportunities to collaborate, market and enhance the experiences for transfer students.

“Transfer majors provide more uniformity in how we measure data, such as enrollment, outcomes and success,” Friesleben said. “This information will help institutions and community colleges continue to improve their transfer programs.”

Transfer majors can help students see their pathway to goal achievement and career objectives more clearly. As this initiative grows further, it will provide more opportunities and choices for students looking to earn bachelor’s degrees and enter the workforce. The transfer major initiative ultimately ensures students are able to seamlessly transfer credits from their associate degrees into four-year degree programs.

“The transfer experience was very easy,” Foster said. “They made it user-friendly.”

Mathis and Foster are serving as good examples of students who have used the transfer major programs and are on their way to success. They are persisting through their psychology courses and are looking towards earning their future bachelor’s degrees and beyond. Both students are already looking into graduate schools.

“I really want to go into counseling for children and adolescents,” Mathis said. “I’ve started looking at graduate schools with my ISU advisor and different things I could do. It’s exciting.”