A panel of four people sit at a table with microphones
Features & Articles

How Pitt is paving the way for transfer students

  • University News
  • Undergraduate students
  • Prospective students
  • School of Education

About 61% of the living wage jobs in Pennsylvania require a bachelor’s degree, according to Eboni Zamani-Gallaher, the Renée and Richard Goldman Dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Education.

That’s why Zamani-Gallaher, along with her colleagues in the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid and the Office of the Provost, is working to make transferring to Pitt from a Pennsylvania community college a welcoming, straightforward experience.

“By facilitating community college students’ mobility, we’re helping them grow both educationally and economically, and we’re helping build Pennsylvania’s workforce,” said Zamani-Gallaher, who also serves as executive director of the Council for the Study of Community Colleges.

On May 17, the University demonstrated its institutional commitment to fostering a transfer-supportive culture by convening more than 150 participants at the inaugural Transfer Pathways Summit. In attendance were leaders from the Community College of Allegheny County, Westmoreland Community College, Butler Community College, Beaver Community College and Northern Pennsylvania Regional College, as well as stakeholders from across Pitt. Along with covering topics like equitable transfer policies, the daylong program included a panel of current and former Pitt transfer students.

Removing roadblocks

A common thread throughout the day’s discussions was the potential of partnerships between Pitt and community colleges to increase the enrollment of students of racially minoritized identities as well as low-income and first-generation students.

In February 2024 remarks to the Pennsylvania House Appropriations Committee, Stanley Sidor, interim president of the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges, noted that 42% of enrolled community college students are minorities or members of other marginalized groups, and nearly half of Pennsylvania community college students come from low-income households.

Pitt’s School of Education advocates for students 25 and older as a partner in the Lumina Foundation’s Racial Equity for Adult Credentialing in Higher Ed Collaborative, a national initiative to improve outcomes for racialized minority community college adult students. The school is also a partner in the Training Future-Oriented Colleges to Enable Youth and Adults project, which aims to develop “13th-year” training programs for high school graduates and promote their seamless transition to higher education.

In a summit breakout session, Brett Visger, senior director of pathways strategy and research in the School of Education, advocated for a system called “stackable credentials.” With this way of counting credits, learners who begin their education journey in a short-term certificate program can later apply that credit to earning an associate degree and then a bachelor's degree.

The field of nursing education is illustrative of the need for a clear, accessible, stackable credit system — even if such systems require lots of coordination between institutions, he said.

“Black and brown women are overrepresented in nurse aide programs at community colleges, but the data shows us that the number of those students who go on to earn a licensed practical nurse degree is single digits. How do we move from the promise of these programs to make it a reality? Create alignment between credentials and degrees,” said Visger.

Panel speaker Kiesha Kamdar (SOC WK ’21), a Pitt School of Social Work graduate student, recounted her experience transferring to Pitt from the Community College of Allegheny County. Her story demonstrated some of the challenges students face navigating the higher education system.

“When I graduated from community college, I had no one to guide me. I didn’t know where to start,” she said.

Kamdar began pursuing a bachelor’s degree at Pitt in January 2020 and faced the additional challenge of navigating her education when in-person classes became virtual during the coronavirus pandemic. Ultimately, she gained her academic footing by forging relationships with her classmates and professors.

“You have to find that one person to help you, whether it’s another student or a professor, that you can consistently communicate with,” she said.

How Pitt makes transferring possible

Chancellor Joan Gabel’s Plan for Pitt prioritizes accessibility, student support services and cultivating belonging and a welcoming culture — values that go hand in hand with enhancing transfer student experiences, said Zamani-Gallaher.

The University has many ongoing initiatives to smooth the way for transfer students and address the experiences of students like Kamdar.

  • Current and potential transfer students receive support, including one-on-one advising, from Office of Admissions and Financial Aid staff at the Transfer Welcome Center in Thackery Hall on the Pittsburgh campus.
  • The Office of Admissions and Financial Aid’s online transfer tool database lets students log their previously earned credits to learn how they translate in Pitt’s system, removing the guesswork from the credit exchange process. The office also has specifically curated information on financial aid for transfer students.
  • Pitt hosts two transfer-focused advisory boards: One of high school and community college counselors who offer feedback to the University, about the University’s enrollment process and transfer readiness, and another of University-based experts, including representatives from housing, advising and the Office of the Provost.

Pitt continues to work with internal and external stakeholders to find new ways to support transfer students. The Transfer Pathways Summit is only the start of Pitt’s undertaking to be more transfer friendly, said Zamani-Gallaher.

“We are doing some self-assessment over the course of the next year with different schools and offices across the University. We’re continuously building strategies for transfer excellence,” she said.


— Nichole Faina, photography by Aimee Obidzinski