“Today’s college students rely on diverse ways of learning, and institutions are exploring new models of education, but students face substantial barriers to completing their degrees and graduating as they move through the higher education system,” commented U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA11), Senior Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, in April, 2014.

Maguire Associates, Inc. held its first Patriot’s Day webinar at nearly the same time, featuring a presentation by Jack Maguire on how transfer students figure into an overall enrollment management strategy.

These seemingly disparate discussions unfolded as a slow-recovering economy, a declining demographic and a rising concern about student debt heightened competition among higher education institutions and elevated their need for transfer students.

College “transfer” connects broad social and institutional priorities with changing personal choices. Effective degree completion for today’s student requires multiple paths to success. Improved student success will in turn produce economic growth and countless social benefits.

It seems institutions can take advantage of a virtuous circle of these forces to boost enrollments and diversity, if they:

Acknowledge the financial role of transfers. Even the best schools lose students. Often it’s simply a poor match. In the wake of inevitable out-migration, transfers can typically fill upper level seats at little cost, providing a very good financial hedge, and warranting a multi-year enrollment plan. Four-year institutions figure more prominently here, but more and more community colleges enroll students who have started in bachelor’s programs.

Recognize and account for additional competition. Transfer has become more relevant for private and public institutions, as a combination of strained budgets and fewer high school graduates means they must look beyond traditional freshmen. As a consequence, more and more colleges mine the same territories. Success with transfer will require rigor and commitment, not treating the segment as an afterthought.

Overcome inertia. We have seen resistance to taking the transfer issue head on. To some, “transfer” is that dirty little secret to meet budget, the thing we don’t advertise. While there remain a few institutions ignoring the segment, government policy and societal change make both such practices obsolete.

Adjust financial aid awards. Part of greater intentionality will include raising financial aid awards in line with market trends. Enrollment managers need to look at transfers like freshmen, recognizing the right packages can produce the right number of enrollees and net revenue.

Set up a transfer program for students. In the webinar, Jack Maguire described his experience at Boston College developing a transfer initiative for students arriving and leaving: “It becomes our goal, our obligation, to help those students to transfer out of the institution. And, interestingly enough, when we did that it helped to increase not only retention but the quality of transfer students who were passing in the night.”

Develop a transfer recruitment strategy. Many students come to your institutions and leave. But an even a greater number enroll with your competitors and find themselves similarly mismatched. These students represent a recruiting opportunity—recruiting students as transfers well before they even decide not to enroll at your college and well before they decide to enroll at another institution. Developing a communications plan to stay in touch with every student who showed interest in your school is a reasonable method of building a transfer pool.

Develop a transfer relationship strategy. Recruiting students in the open market is a costly retail operation. Since community colleges routinely prepare students for transfer, it makes good sense to cultivate relationships with them through articulation agreements. Program to program coordination will smooth things both for the student and for their respective colleges. Success will require careful attention to pricing and an aggressive policy to hold down the cost of degree completion (e.g., eliminating excess credit requirements).

Recognize the true value of transfer students. Transfer students are far more than a revenue generator: they bring maturity and diversity, and balancing freshmen with transfers makes for a more vibrant campus community.

Track and measure results. For over 31 years, we have advised hundreds of presidents and senior teams on the merits of a robust transfer effort. Too often transfer remains mired in an institutional backwater rather than front and center. We urge approaching transfer activities with a rigor equal to freshmen and tracking the transfer funnel closely from inquiry to graduation. Remember, alumni most often place their primary allegiance with the bachelor’s degree granting institution, so there are potential long-term benefits for four-year programs above and beyond today’s tuition.

For advice on your transfer program and how our techniques and tools might help, please call 978-371-1775 or visit MaguireAssoc.com