While 80 percent of community college students say they plan to transfer to a four-year school, only about 25 percent do so within five years.
These statistics are troubling, especially given the financially sound advice often dispensed to high school students — that attending community college first and then transferring later can significantly cut college costs.
What’s maybe even more disheartening is that, six years after transferring, only 17 percent of community college students will earn bachelor’s degrees.
These numbers come from a recent report called “Strengthening the Transfer Pathway" from the Edvance Foundation, a nonprofit group that provides community college graduates with increased access to four-year independent colleges.
Though it’s difficult to nail down the cause of low transfer and bachelor’s attainment rates, contributing factors may include insufficient academic preparation, personal or familial responsibilities, or — as Edvance and other organizations suggest — insufficient guidance and support within academic institutions (both high schools and colleges) themselves.
When students make the bold move of transferring from a two-year to a four-year college, they have to weigh a number of concerns: location, cost, admissions standards, academic and career ambitions, extracurricular responsibilities, and unfamiliar collegiate cultures. Colleges have a role to play, too, and the process of calculating credits and outstanding requirements can interfere with and slow down the transfer process.
Public institutions like the City University of New York and the University of California, have attempted to smooth rocky pathways for transfer students by instituting consistent general-education curricula across all the two-year and four-year institutions in their respective systems. When these requirements and accepted courses are made consistent, students and their advisers have an easier time figuring out credits and placements a year or two down the line — when it may indeed be the right time to enroll in a four-year school. (Community college counselors in particular often feel left out of the process, as they are not always given the necessary information to provide optimal guidance to their students. These new standardized curricula promise to change that.)
It’s not just large public universities that are working to pave the way for transfer students from community colleges. Exploring Transfer at Vassar College is a summer bridge program that brings first-generation college students from 15 different community colleges around the country to Vassar, an elite, small liberal arts college in Poughkeepsie, New York. Participants spend a summer on campus taking interdisciplinary courses under the guidance of Vassar professors in order to prepare them for the rigorous programs of study that four-year colleges will throw at them.
Over 30 years, Exploring Transfer alumni have gone on to study at Yale, Columbia, Smith, and Middlebury, among many other highly competitive institutions.
To expand and expedite connections between qualified community college graduates and four-year colleges, Edvance has partnered with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. These organizations provide annual scholarships to qualified community college students who demonstrate financial need.
The Cooke Foundation, Bucknell University, Cornell University, Mount Holyoke College, the University of California—Berkeley, the University of Michigan, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the University of Southern California.
In its first three years, this partnership, called the Community College Transfer Initiative notes that the average GPA among these transfer students at participating four-year schools was 3.0. The report also outlines the ways in which funding was used to stimulate more local efforts — from summer bridge programs to academic learning communities — that support transfer students. The University of Michigan even created the “U-M Road Show," a team of representatives from 31 college departments and offices — both academic and student life–related — who traveled around the region recruiting potential transfer students from community colleges.
In putting together “Strengthening the Transfer Pathway," Edvance and its partners contacted 1,675 four-year schools and received responses from one-quarter of them. Survey results indicated that 93 percent of the responding institutions were open to accepting students from two-year colleges. But they also found that, in general, the more selective an institution was, the less clear its course-equivalency rules and standards turned out to be. Also, more selective schools tended to be less active in recruiting students from community colleges. In other words, while selective schools were open to the possibility of accepting community college student transfers in theory, they tended not to take steps toward facilitating that process in practice.
The authors of the report also claim that schools rely on transfer students to “plug revenue gaps caused by enrollment miscalculations involving withdrawals, dropouts, and study abroad." That is, colleges don’t plan for these students at the beginning of the class-building process, and there is thus not as likely to be a series of coordinated efforts at integrating transfer students into their new cohorts.
To make the arrival of community college transfer students on top college campuses more intentional — a move that would result in greater successes for students and colleges alike — the Edvance report makes a series of recommendations for smoothing the transfer pathway. These have five core aims:
Such changes, the Edvance Foundation argues, would allow colleges to offer more pointed (and, ultimately, effective) assistance to transfer students, while also generating a greater return on schools’ investment. As the CCTI becomes part of the infrastructure of private institutions, Edvance and the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation plan to expand these partnerships to additional institutions.
Wondering how the colleges you’re considering recruit and prepare transfer students for success? Check out their profiles on Noodle, and ask them questions about the programs they offer.
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