Today, Ithaka S+R released the Playbook for Transfer Pathways to the Liberal Arts: How to Design and Implement Statewide Pathways from Community Colleges to Independent Colleges, a toolkit that seeks to help independent four-year colleges design and implement transfer pathways open to all community college students in their state and to ensure consistency in transfer expectations across all participating independent colleges. The playbook is a resource to advance the goals of Transfer Pathways to the Liberal Arts, an initiative co-sponsored by the Teagle Foundation and Arthur Vining Davis Foundations (AVDF) to develop statewide transfer pathways from community colleges to independent colleges in 20 states.

One-third of all college students nationally are enrolled at community colleges, and most aspire to earn the baccalaureate. The troubling reality is that only 13 percent ultimately earn their bachelor’s degree in six years. Bachelor’s degree attainment for community college transfer students, who are more likely to come from historically underserved communities, is one underutilized but essential pathway for reducing equity gaps in higher education. One way to achieve this at scale is through sector- or consortium-level initiatives dedicated to community college to independent college transfer.

The playbook details the learnings of the state associations and college consortia who are implementing and sustaining community college transfer pathways that improve opportunities for students to transfer from two-year public institutions to four-year private liberal arts colleges. The institutions surveyed range across six states – Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio and Rhode Island. These states are served by the following state associations, regional compacts, and college consortia: Minnesota Private College Council, New England Board of Higher Education, North Carolina Independent Colleges & Universities, and Ohio Foundation of Independent Colleges.

The playbook shows how state associations or consortia of independent colleges can design statewide transfer initiatives that meet the needs of both independent colleges and community colleges, with a solid infrastructure and commitment from multiple stakeholders to sustain it. The grantees who contributed to the toolkit hope their insights and experiences will encourage their peer independent colleges to take concrete steps to expand transfer access to the liberal arts. 
“This playbook is a guide for independent four-year institutions seeking to increase and improve their community college transfer processes,” said Julia Karon, lead author of the playbook and analyst at Ithaka S+R. “While the report focuses on the experiences of six states engaged in reform, it is a resource that can help four-year colleges and their state associations adopt a strategy for sustaining a strong transfer program in the long term.”

Dr. A. Hope Williams, President of North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities (NCICU), noted, “We have 15 NCICU campuses participating in the grant and even more are signing the common statewide transfer pathways agreement in Psychology and Sociology. These transfer pathways are open to students at any of the 58 community colleges in North Carolina. We hope the lessons learned from our efforts will help our peers around the country while we continue to build on what we have accomplished.”

“Standardized and actionable transfer pathways are proven to help community college students transfer to and graduate from four-year institutions,” said Emily Decatur, Senior Program Manager, Transfer Initiatives at New England Board of Higher Education. “Our partnership with four-year independent colleges, along with community colleges and state public higher education systems, fostered the development of transfer pathways modeled upon state transfer guarantee policy in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. Additional supporting infrastructure of the initiative focuses on transfer receptivity, increased access to financial aid for eligible students, which offers even greater transparency to the often convoluted transfer process and presents a model for colleges in other parts of the country to explore.”

For further details, please see the request for proposals and research report on overcoming pitfalls and leveraging opportunities for transfer pathways from community colleges to independent colleges.


Ithaka S+R helps academic and cultural communities serve the public good and navigate economic, technological, and demographic change. Our work also aims to broaden access to higher education by reducing costs and improving student outcomes. Ithaka S+R is part of ITHAKA, a not-for-profit with a mission to improve access to knowledge and education for people around the world. We believe education is key to the wellbeing of individuals and society, and we work to make it more effective and affordable.

The Teagle Foundation works to support and strengthen liberal arts education, which we see as fundamental to meaningful work, effective citizenship, and a fulfilling life. Our aim is to serve as a catalyst for the improvement of teaching and learning in the arts and sciences while addressing issues of financial sustainability and accountability in higher education.

The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations were organized in 1952 under a living trust established by Mr. Arthur Vining Davis. The Foundations invest in our common future by supporting inclusive higher education and health care, vibrant spiritual communities, and a clean environment.