USC should strategize to ensure transfer students’ success

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The pandemic has affected all aspects of higher education: From the transition to remote learning to the Spring 2020 options surrounding pass/no pass grading and credit policies, discussions about what the next academic year will hold have demonstrated the importance of prioritizing students’ needs.

These conversations highlight the need to ensure flexibility and further understanding for all students at USC, and incoming transfer students are no exception. USC must prioritize actions geared toward easing the newly matriculated transfer student body’s adjustment to the University, especially considering many will not be on campus. 

Coming into USC, transfer students are already at a disadvantage with regard to adapting to a new environment. In addition to shouldering the complications of remote learning and the pandemic, transfer students must also learn the inner workings of a new institution while navigating what has been labeled a “second freshman year.” 

According to a 2019 study cited in Teaching in Higher Education, transfer students who take all classes online have a much lower retention rate than non-transfers. 

This research suggests that transfer students who take classes online may feel even more isolated from the campus community. As a result, these students do not feel as comfortable reaching out for help.

In addition to online learning, the multiple challenges transfers experience are only exacerbated by the coronavirus. Now, transfer students face the added struggle of “losing” another semester — of which there are already very few — that otherwise would have been spent forming in-person connections and reaping the fruits of the on-campus experience. 

It is true that without the benefit of in-person interaction, incoming transfer students must be proactive in seeking out their own opportunities. However, it is up to the University to ensure that those opportunities are made available and accessible. 

USC should implement initiatives to ensure that newly matriculated transfer students have the resources necessary to academically and socially succeed at the University. These initiatives should ease the transition for the transfer student body in all aspects of university life without lumping transfer students together with incoming first-years. 

One useful initiative might be peer advising, an opportunity that could be clearly marketed and distributed to incoming transfer students. Such an initiative could take the form of student admission ambassadors having virtual check-ins with new transfers on a voluntary basis.

These individualized weekly check-ins could be centered around transitioning to USC during the pandemic, as questions about USC should not just be limited to orientation.

Additionally, campus organizations should work more intensively to recruit transfer students throughout Fall 2020. Incoming transfer students may have uncertainties about what getting involved in clubs and extracurriculars during the school year will look like, especially since these programs will be held mostly online, or they may not be aware of the vast opportunities for extracurricular involvement at the University at all. Student organizations should work to actively combat this confusion by focusing recruitment efforts at least partly on transfer students.

For instance, campus organizations could work with the Office of Admissions to engage new transfer students with the option of signing up for email newsletters. These newsletters would contain information on application processes and introductory information so that transfer students are made aware of these opportunities.

Yet implementation of these initiatives cannot just focus on easing the social transition. Instead, a primary focus of concern should be how the administration can support transfer students in their studies. 

For instance, allowing transfer students to have classes taken at other institutions count for all eight General Education requirements could be of great benefit in the long run. Many transfer students may have already taken courses that meet all the GE requirements at their former schools due to institutional requirements. However, due to USC’s policy mandating transfer students to take two GE courses at USC, these students are forced to decide which courses they want to count for GE requirements and which GE categories they would like to take again. 

With this policy amended, transfer students have the opportunity to take more major classes or electives that they are interested in. This is much more valuable given that transfers would be able to spend their time and resources at USC in ways more productive for their academic goals. 

For academic advisers, ensuring the academic success of transfer students might mean adapting to a more informal means of guidance beyond required checklists. This could mean reaching out to transfer students about how the academic transition is going online and directing them toward specific virtual resources as needed.

To be sure, the burden of ensuring transfer students’ success is not completely up to USC. Rather, part of this responsibility lies with transfer students themselves, who must take initiative to communicate with their advisers, peers and professors while learning remotely.  

Regardless, transfer students must not be left out of the conversation when it comes to how USC can ensure the success of its students during this pandemic. Transfer students are an integral part of the USC community and it is imperative that USC treat them as such.