New model of support gives transfer students a leg up

October 23, 2014

ASU lauded for transfer pathways program

For an increasing number of students in the United States, the journey to a bachelor's degree often begins at a community college. But how successfully these students find their way to a four-year institution is highly dependent on a culture of support – one that is thriving at Arizona State University.   portrait of four women holding an award Download Full Image

Recognized as a leader in improving the success of transfer students, ASU has received the Inaugural Institutional Excellence for Students in Transition Award, given by the National Resource Center for the First Year Experience and Students in Transition.

“ASU is truly honored to be acknowledged for the work done on behalf of transfer students and our community college partners,” said Kelly Robles, senior director of Community College Relations. “To be the first recipient of such an award solidifies the fact that ASU is leading the way for transfer student success.”

To be presented annually to institutions that have designed and implemented outstanding collaborative initiatives that enhance significant transitions during the undergraduate experience, the award recognizes successful initiatives, such as ASU’s transfer pathways program, that support student learning and development at a variety of transition points beyond the first college year.  

Creating a 'culture of transfer'

Better connecting transfer students to a host of support services – and, ultimately, a four-year degree – ASU undertook a broad-reaching and comprehensive plan for reform and improvement, says Maria Hesse, vice provost for academic partnerships at ASU.

“The goal put forth by ASU’s President Michael Crow was straightforward, but not simple,” Hesse said. “To increase the numbers of students who are 1) transferring from Arizona community colleges to ASU, 2) preparing for success in their desired majors and 3) completing their associate’s and bachelor’s degrees, while reducing time and costs.”

Hesse started by visiting every community college president in the state and asking for their ideas about how to improve transfer student success. With the stated purpose to “create a culture of transfer,” ASU and the colleges began a partnership.

Transfer specialists were hired and deployed; transfer orientations and peer mentoring programs were created; and faculty conversations series, newsletters and publications were developed – all to create a transfer process that was clear and seamless.

The university employed the very successful ASU eAdvisor concepts as the basis for the transfer pathways program, with terms such as “major map” to describe the sequenced curricular pathway to degree completion. Playing off of that theme, Hesse says, ASU developed MAPP (Maricopa to ASU Pathways Program) with the Maricopa Community Colleges, in addition to the TAG (Transfer Admission Guarantee) program, which is offered at other community colleges throughout the state.

The Guided Pathways to Success (GPS) program, which includes MAPP and TAG, has benefits for all parties involved, Hesse says. It helps the community colleges with their degree completion initiatives because the pathways build in a completed associate’s degree. It helps the university because the program incents students to come academically prepared for success in their major and thus students are more likely to persist to bachelor’s degree completion.

Most of all, it helps students because the program is designed around student success data and provides incentives for completing major milestones along the route to success.

Pathways to success

All pathways are available on the ASU transfer student website –

Interested students sign up for a pathway with their community college adviser. The names and other information about those students who sign up are transmitted to ASU each week, and that starts a flow of communication from the university to the student.

To encourage student participation in the pathways, benefits for students are tied into the program, including guaranteed admission to a specific ASU degree program, reduced tuition for Arizona residents, and access to ASU transfer advising and other pre-enrollment services while students are at the community college.

ASU has also built a number of online, self-service tools to help students and community college advisers with the transfer process. The goal was to provide forward-facing, self-service tools to guide and personalize the transfer experience.

“There are no easy fixes to the challenges of supporting transfer students before, during and after their transition from the community college to the university,” Hesse says. “But I am proud to say that ASU, in collaboration with our community college partners, has made significant progress in Arizona’s ongoing reform and improvement initiative.”

Leona Morales
Office of Academic Partnerships

Intervention program key to preventing high school dropouts

October 23, 2014

New findings from a team of prevention scientists at Arizona State University demonstrate that a family-focused intervention program for middle-school Mexican American children leads to decreased drop-out rates and lower rates of alcohol and illegal drug use.

“This is the first randomized prevention trial that we’re aware of to show effects on school dropout for this population,” said Nancy Gonzales, Foundation Professor in the REACH Institute and Psychology Department within ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. notebook and pen Download Full Image

High-school aged youth that participated in the Bridges to High School program when they were in seventh grade were more likely to value school and believe it was important for their future.

They reported lower rates of substance use, internalizing symptoms such as depression, and school drop-out rates compared to adolescents in a control group, according to the study, “School Engagement Mediates Long-Term Prevention Effects for Mexican American Adolescents,” published in Prevention Science.

This research is especially significant since Mexican American youth face significant barriers that lead them to have one of the highest high-school drop-out rates in the nation. The program engages students in seventh grade and their families to stay on an academic track and plan for their future so they are prepared for high school and young adulthood.

The new findings show that adolescents who are at high risk for problems such as early drinking were most likely to benefit from the program and show positive effects.

Effects of the intervention program that included 516 students and their parents in four Maricopa County middle schools were found during the high school years for participants who had completed the program.

“The program has something to offer for all students, but our research shows those who need the program the most benefit the most,” Gonzales said.

Key elements consist of students working with peers and facilitators to explore the value of education, identify and affirm personal goals and values, and learn strategies to cope with adolescent problems and difficult life challenges. Parents also work with facilitators to keep communication with their children positive by providing support, monitoring and limit-setting that adolescents need.

Ema Jauregui realized many benefits in her students when the program was implemented in her classroom when she was a middle school teacher at Estrella Middle School in Phoenix.

“The program brought in parents and students to work side by side. It really reinforces education for the students, and the program is very easy to implement,” she said. “It moves the focus from just discipline to educational needs and problem-solving. When kids see that their parent cares about education, they see more value in it.”

Jauregui saw parents and children develop positive communication skills, even witnessing the first time a child and parent had hugged during the youth’s teenage years.

Among the program’s aims are to strengthen core competencies that allow youth to thrive, even when they are faced with adversity.

“Research findings support an assumption of the Bridges program that middle school is an opportune time to strengthen competencies and to motivate parents to provide the guidance and support that youth need to stay on a good path through adolescence,” said Gonzales, the principal investigator for the study.

Contributors include associate professor Larry Dumka of the ASU T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics; professor Roger Millsap; assistant research professor Anne Mauricio; graduate student Jessie Wong of the ASU Psychology Department and REACH Institute (formerly the Prevention Research Center) in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; and postdoctoral fellow Russell Toomey, assistant professor at Kent State University.

The Bridges to High School research team has recently been awarded a new grant from the National Institute of Drug Abuse to focus on long-term sustainability of the program in Title 1 schools.

“Now that we understand the core components that account for long-term effects of the program, we can redesign a next-generation program that fits the needs of families and schools that have limited resources,” Gonzales said. “We want to ensure that more families have this opportunity.”