When they enroll in college, students embark on a hopeful journey of personal enrichment with a degree as the end goal. And there are different paths they can take to arrive at graduation. Indiana University is focused on making that path -- for all students, and especially transfers -- less complicated and more transparent.
Carolyn Gentle-Genitty, who has served as director of the University Transfer Office for three years, leads a program that focuses on what Executive Vice President John Applegate has called one of IU's strategic priorities.
She has worked with many university partners to simplify a sometimes-complicated process and improve transfer transparency at IU, which means the university pays attention to students' intent along with their completion via credit and offers a way to respond to issues related to equity, access and on-time degree attainment.
"This formula ensures student-ready information is accessible, maps are available to determine how credits transfer, and resources are linked to assess personalized paths to completion," Gentle-Genitty said.
Because students transfer a wide spectrum of credits in varied courses from differing institutions, determining credits' application to a particular degree can be tough.
Gentle-Genitty says this transactional nature of the credit-counting process must change and be replaced with a relationship-based model in which credit is used as currency. Using the currency of credit to help students "purchase products" toward degree attainment is a sure win. When credit is used and applied effectively, students have positive experiences -- completion and graduation. The result is that activities support students' goal attainment and not only institutional goals.
Gentle-Genitty, who is also the assistant vice president for university academic policy, leads IU's strategic priorities focused on transfer students. She lists three areas of consistent improvement: articulation, automation and advising:
- Articulation is the exposure of internal and external institutional partnerships to share credit around a common curriculum.
- Automation capitalizes on articulations; exposes equivalencies; reduces student handoffs; and increases the speed of evaluation, notification and application of credit toward a degree. The student can then proactively determine remaining coursework, costs and a timeline for degree completion.
- Using automation, advisors can provide personalized experiences, maximize credit transfers toward degree completion and meet students' needs in a timely manner without having to wait for lengthy course evaluations.
Results show that the changes are working. An IU survey taken by over 1,300 transfer students in fall 2019 revealed students found the university to be transfer friendly and reported positive experiences in all survey sections.
Understandably, IU Northwest junior Kyle Rhein was a little more nervous about the transfer process than others might be, as he started his journey from the other side of the world. Rhein, an Air Force veteran, was stationed in Germany when he initiated the process and was hesitant about the distance and the inability to meet in person. But his questions and confusion were quickly alleviated through friendly conversations and communications with IU Northwest staff.
"My transfer was very smooth," Rhein said. "I couldn't have asked for anything better, to be honest. I'm very happy and content with my experience so far."
The criminal justice major, who did two tours in the Middle East, returned from duty in June and started classes in August. He is getting all A's in his four classes and said he easily adapted.
"Everyone has been very welcoming from the beginning," Rhein said. "I'm a very social person, and people have been so kind, friendly and supportive."
Advising is an important part of transferring, as the advisor sets the tone for the student's new experience and lends a helping hand. Advisors are equipped to assist students in finding uses for previous credits and suggest possibilities for majors. Gentle-Genitty said students traditionally bring more credits to their degree path when they are involved with an advisor, reducing both their cost and their time to degree.
Like Rhein, IU Northwest senior Yoselin Coronado credits her transfer specialist -- Brenda Pena-Martinez -- for helping her navigate the sometimes-overwhelming process.
"She turned out to be the most helpful person and made my experience better than I anticipated," Coronado said. "Having someone you know from the school tell you where to go and what to do makes everything easier and better."
Coronado, who transferred from Ivy Tech and is majoring in health information administration, will be the first in her family to earn a degree. While taking classes, she has worked as an English/Spanish translator and is raising a young son with her husband. Though she's juggling a lot of responsibilities and navigating life in the COVID-19 pandemic, Coronado is happy and grateful about her transfer decision.
"I have taken advantage of every opportunity that has been presented to me," she said. "And though there have been many obstacles along the way, I do not regret my decision to transfer to IU Northwest."
One focus of the University Transfer Office has been expanding IU's articulation agreements, which are signed documents between an IU campus and a partnering institution that detail course transparency and allow for a smooth transition between the institutions. "When the two institutions agree on a curriculum plan, there's an easy transfer of credits -- a cleaner process that hasn't been clear before," Gentle-Genitty said.
One of IU's more notable articulation agreements is between IUPUI and Ivy Tech Community College. It provides a clear map for 36 different degrees. The program starts with two years at Ivy Tech, where students earn an associate degree and have to meet a set of admission requirements before continuing on to earn a bachelor's degree from IUPUI in two additional years.
Prior to COVID-19, a focus for the transfer office was to increase efforts to prepare for the pending "enrollment cliff" higher education is facing with the smaller number of high school students in upcoming classes.
"We know that higher education institutions are going to see fewer students coming through the traditional routes, so supporting a strong transfer-student pipeline is even more important," Gentle-Genitty said. "Most come ready and motivated to finish their IU degree."
Because of the pandemic, there's been an influx of activity for Gentle-Genitty and the transfer office. They've seen an increase in transfer students who want to stay closer to home, more requests for pass/fail grades and a greater need for support for students to facilitate the executive order signed by Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb signed to expedite the graduation of nursing students.
"COVID-19 has not changed what we do, but it has sped up our response to the needs of our students," Gentle-Genitty said.