Background/Context: Although the importance of facilitating transfer from community colleges to 4-year institutions is almost universally accepted, there is little consensus on how to measure transfer success or evaluate policies aimed at assisting students in making this educational transition. Despite the increasing attention on transfer in recent decades, the most fundamental types of questions, such as whether community colleges are successful at facilitating transfer and bachelor’s degree attainment and whether articulation policies are effective, lack satisfactory answers.
Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: I describe challenges associated with current endeavors to facilitate and measure transfer success, attempt to resolve some of the inconsistencies in previous research on articulation policies, and illuminate promising paths for the future.
Research Design: The manuscript begins with a synthesis of previous research, including different definitions of transfer success and articulation policies. I then analyze state-level and individual-level data to examine the effectiveness of articulation policies using these distinct definitions. Finally, I draw on descriptive information from various higher education systems to illustrate the variety of strategies adopted to facilitate transfer, and I suggest potential explanations for why statewide articulation policies may not appear effective.
Conclusions/Recommendations: The current state of knowledge and data collection efforts make it impossible to provide definitive answers regarding the effectiveness of articulation policies in higher education. I conclude with recommendations for improving future research and policy regarding this crucial transition in higher education, including collecting and sharing data (with collaboration between higher education institutions and state and federal governments), clearly defining goals of articulation policies and evaluating them accordingly, and developing a consistent set of definitions and measurements of transfer success. I suggest that these recommendations can be implemented by building on existing systems of collaboration and coordination in higher education.