Nearly 40% of all US undergraduate students transfer between institutions at least once, and at some colleges and university more than half of all students have transferred (Shapiro et al. 2018). Many students successfully navigate transfer, earning their degrees at rates comparable to peers who remain at one institution. However, significant inequities exist in the transfer student experience, particularly for low-income or Black and Latinx community college students (Shapiro et al. 2017).

Cover of report titled "Supporting Transfer Student Success: Five Key Faculty Practices"

In the higher education sector’s efforts to improve transfer experiences and outcomes, the central role of teaching faculty often has been ignored. Curriculum alignment, financial aid policies, and other systems matter for transfer student success, but so do faculty, who often are the most significant point of connection to college for students. 

Recently, I collaborated with Xueli Wang, Lance Gooden, Jonathan Iuzzini, and Emily Kittrell to write “Supporting Transfer Student Success: Five Key Faculty Practices” (published online for free by NISTS, the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students).

Drawing on research and practice, this guide recommends five key faculty practices to support student success:

  1. Confront false assumptions and deficit thinking
  2. Know who your transfer students are
  3. Offer relentless welcome
  4. Build connections across the institution
  5. Work to improve systems and structures

This 25-page resource is worth reading in full, but we will briefly summarize some key points here. In the guide, each practice also includes practical advice and questions for reflection that will help faculty put these five practices into action.

Practice 1: Confront false assumptions and deficit thinking

False assumptions about transfer students are common in higher education, warping faculty attitudes toward these students; indeed, Xueli Wang’s research demonstrates that community college STEM transfer students are among the most motivated and resilient of all undergraduates (Wang 2020). Rather than expect deficits or problems, faculty should take an equity-minded approach to transfer students, including by helping them make meaningful connections between their academic learning and their own community.

Practice 2: Know who your transfer students are

Faculty often begin courses by asking students to share a bit of information about themselves, sometimes through a survey or by writing in response to some prompts. This sends two important messages to transfer students: (a) as a faculty member, you are interested in getting to know your students; and (b) the students’ academic background and lived experiences will be relevant to their learning in the course. Both of those messages contribute to a student’s sense of belonging and mattering in class. Faculty can also explore departmental or institutional data about transfer students to look for patterns and to better understand common barriers to transfer student success (Wang 2021).

Practice 3: Offer relentless welcome

All undergraduates benefit from frequent, positive interactions with faculty and peers in the classroom (Felten and Lambert 2020). Transfer students particularly benefit when faculty help them feel welcome at their new institution (Wang et al. 2020). Throughout the guide, we emphasize the importance of this keystone practice. Faculty can make students welcome by showing an interest in transfer students as individuals, affirming their capacity to learn and succeed in class, and normalizing help-seeking behaviors like using the writing and tutoring centers.

Practice 4: Build connections across the institution

Helping transfer students make connections with peers, staff, and other faculty can be crucial in their success. Faculty can use class time to build purposeful student peer relationships and can link students to academic resources and opportunities including undergraduate research, internships, career advisors, and student organizations. Research demonstrates that high-impact practices that faculty may already use in their courses are powerful ways to deepen transfer student learning and to help them build connections that will support their success (AAC&U, Assessing High-Impact Learning for Underserved Students).

Practice 5: Work to improve systems and structures that matter to transfer student success

While the actions faculty take individually matter, many policy- and systems-level challenges create substantial hurdles for transfer students. Faculty can listen to and learn from transfer students’ experiences, and then they can work with colleagues across the institution to address common problems. Faculty also can investigate curricular structures and transfer policies to discover which are complicating transfer students’ educational journeys and where the gaps are in transfer students’ supports.

This concise guide is meant to be an accessible resource for faculty to encourage action to enhance transfer students’ success. With its practical recommendations and reflection questions, the guide will help faculty improve what they already do and adopt new, evidence-informed techniques. The guide concludes: “We encourage you to identify one or two [ideas] that you can implement immediately and to create a plan for how you will assess the impact of those efforts on the students within your sphere of influence” (20), underscoring the many ways that faculty can contribute to sustainable, positive changes in the transfer student experience.


AAC&U. “Assessing High-Impact Learning for Underserved Students.” Access on October 7, 2021.

Felten, Peter, and Leo M. Lambert. 2020. Relationship-Rich Education: How Human Connections Drive Success in College. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Shapiro, Doug, Afet Dundar, Faye Huie, Phoebe Khasiala Wakhungu, Ayesha Bhimdiwali, Angel Nathan, and Youngsik Hwang. 2017. “Tracking Transfer: Measures of Effectiveness in Helping Community College Students to Complete Bachelor’s Degrees” (Signature Report No. 13). Herndon, VA: National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Shapiro, Doug, Afet Dundar, Faye Huie, Phoebe Khasiala Wakhungu, Ayesha Bhimdiwali, Angel Nathan, and Youngsik Hwang. 2018. “Transfer and Mobility: A National View of Student Movement in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2011 Cohort” (Signature Report No. 15). Herndon, VA: National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Wang, Xueli. 2021. “Main Barriers Transfer (-Intending) Students Experience and Overcome.” National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students. Accessed October 7, 2021.

Wang, Xueli. 2020. On My Own: The Challenge and Promise of Building Equitable STEM Transfer Pathways. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Wang, Xueli, Seo Young Lee, Brett Ranon Nachman, and Xiwei Zhu. 2020. “It Matters Long Before: How Early Exposure to Faculty and Advisors at Baccalaureate Institutions Relate to Upward Transfer.” Educational Researcher 50 (2): 105-114.

Thank you to Liz Crouse for contributing to the framing of this post.

Peter Felten is executive director of the Center for Engaged Learning, assistant provost for teaching and learning, and professor of history at Elon University.

How to Cite this Post

Felten, Peter. (2021, October 12). Faculty Practices to Support Transfer Student Success [Blog Post]. Retrieved from