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Degree Pathways

4 Pilots to Test Technologies and Strategies for Transfer Student Advising

As part of the Education Design Lab’s Seamless Transfer Pathways design challenge, four college and university teams are using artificial intelligence, interactive tools and more to address low transfer and completion rates among community college students.

student meeting with adviser

In 2017, the Education Design Lab launched a design challenge it called "Seamless Transfer Pathways." The goal: to come up with ways to address the "staggeringly low" transfer and completion rates among community college students. While 100 schools offered proposals, the organization chose four teams to work with. Each team consisted of a community college and a four-year college or university. Participating institutions were given access to subject-matter experts, coaches and design specialists to help them create solutions intended to be "transformative."

The Lab is a nonprofit that pulls together partners, funders and institutions to come up with possible solutions for difficult education challenges related to the education-to-work ecosystem. Previous challenges have tackled microcredentials, support for non-traditional students and building leadership capacity for innovation.

Among the solutions for the transfer pathways challenge profiled in a new report from the Lab is one that uses artificial intelligence to help college advisers better support their students and increase the number who transfer successfully. ADVANCE, produced by Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) and George Mason University, seeks to streamline the transfer path for students by providing a single point of admission for both colleges and aligning curriculum that will help students flow between the institutions and complete their degree.

The ADVANCE program includes a combination of co-curricular involvement, guided pathways and VANCE, a 24/7 AI assistant. The AI learns common pain points that affect most students, then builds responses based on what works best, offering a common answer for both schools. As the report noted, "Providing consistent communications is key to efforts to scale student success coaching support."

For example, VANCE can advise students on what course to take next and how to access financial aid. Students interact with VANCE through voice or text, and the software integrates with online scheduling and advising systems. AI faculty from both institutions have been involved with development of the technology.

Another project, run by Miami Dade College and Florida International University, focuses on STEM students. In this project, the institutions studied data on their STEM students and found that besides coming to FIU ill-prepared for the more rigorous courses at the university, students also faced other challenges: excess credits, inconsistent advising and monitoring and "profound student distrust of information." The STEM transfer path as it existed confused students as well as advisers, faculty and staff. In response, the two schools co-developed plans for TRANSFERmation, an interactive online roadmap for STEM transfer students. Students would begin using the tool the moment they start at MDC, and chart their milestones all the way to the day they graduate from FIU. Now, armed with funding from a private foundation, the schools will begin building their tool.

Not all of the projects rely on technology. Collin College and the University of North Texas tackled a problem faced by prospective business students. Most, according to the report, are missing pre-requisites, which means they "automatically incur an additional 18 credit hours" of work. This team's project has resulted in development of new curriculum designed to speed students with a Collins associate degree to a UNT degree with guaranteed transfer, recognition of non-business coursework toward the degree and an opportunity to combine outside interests with "broad-based" business learning. The new degree will launch as a pilot in the fall.

And Township High School District 211, Harper College and Northern Illinois University worked together to create a "business degree in three," which fast-tracks high schoolers to Harper College and then NIU. The program uses personalized pathways, exposure to careers, "seamless academic advising" and courses that have been coordinated across the three participating institutions. That pilot will also begin in the fall.

The results of the pilots will be tracked for the next six years.

The full report is openly available on the Education Design Lab website. A webinar featuring the participating schools takes place on June 5, 2019.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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