Community College Transfer LLC can assist community and technical colleges in the development of improved strategy to enhance readiness and success of students intending to transfer.
The Community College Role and Responsibility in Transfer
Community colleges serve this nation proudly, providing access to higher education for millions of students each year. Built to be flexible and responsive to the needs of their communities, these two year institutions serve a highly varied myriad of missions, often with resources that are less than adequate to meet the demands.
One central piece of that mission is the transfer function. For students interested in earning a bachelor’s degree, the community college provides the first two years of undergraduate education, focusing on introductory coursework and general education requirements that optimally prepare students for their junior and senior years at four year colleges and universities.
Starting at the community college offers many advantages including much lower tuition, smaller class sizes and an option to live at home. These mainly commuter campuses allow students to maintain family, work, and community commitments, as they endeavor to their baccalaureate goals. Community colleges are also an exceptional option for students who are not quite sure of their majors or career goals. These benefits attract many aspiring bachelor’s degree students to the community college.
While the community college makes all necessary resources available, for over a decade, research has consistently shown that students with baccalaureate intentions who begin at the community college are less likely to earn bachelor’s degrees than students who begin at four year institutions. Even when reviewed with controls for income, demographics, academic ability and other variables, students are still 15% less likely to earn bachelor’s degrees. There are roadblocks and obstacles to be addressed to improve students’ ability to navigate the transfer process more smoothly. The transition from the community to four year college or university is fraught with challenges that include difficulty transferring credits, lack of advising and information, poor planning and financial concerns. Students who begin at the four year institution have the built in advantage of not having to navigate that transition. The community college, along with university partners must work together to minimize the roadblocks for students who wish to transfer.
Students who do successfully make the transition provide all of the evidence needed to demonstrate why improving transfer statistics is such a worthwhile goal. Research demonstrates that students who do transfer are likely to succeed in percentages that are very comparable to native students. Although it is true that students who begin at the community college are less likely to earn their bachelor’s degrees, when they are successful at making it to the four year campus, their chances of earning the bachelor’s degree are nearly equal to students who began at that college. Ensuring that students are able to move from the two to the four year campus is the critical event.
Already, over 40% of new students choose community college to begin postsecondary education and research shows that over 80% of those students state an intention to earn a bachelor’s degree. Unfortunately, six years after entering college, only 25% of those students have transferred to a four year campus. Community colleges have a great responsibility to provide these students with a clear path that leads to their goals. Students who understand the path to their four year degree and who commit to that path from the outset, experience the best of all worlds. They receive a quality education that leads to their desired bachelor’s degree at a fraction of the price, allowing them to avoid the debt that has crippled our most recent wave of college graduates.
Community colleges will support the goals of transfer students by establishing relations and articulation agreements with four year colleges and universities. Developing structures that respond to institutional expectations and student desires can create frameworks that make the path more intuitive for students.
Community colleges can support students’ transfer aspirations by presenting a proactive rather than reactive approach to transfer. Initial advising sessions should include full discussions about career goals. Tools and information should be utilized to help students understand the educational requirements associated with different careers. That understanding should include educational expectations for entry level positions and the requirements needed to move up in the profession. Advisors should fully explore a student’s interest in potential transfer. Even students registered in programs that are not designed for transfer, should be informed that certain courses in their programs may be unlikely to transfer should they decide at a later time to pursue a bachelor’s degree.
Recent research on success and persistence of community college students points to guided pathways to help students stay on track. Students on the transfer track require the same attention but their guided pathway must lead to the four year institution of their choice. Transfer, if it is the student’s choice must be the foundation in the development of their graduation plan.
Community colleges can also work to connect with four year institutions in an attempt to reach a shared understanding of expectations regarding student progression from one institution to the other. What are the perceptions each institution holds? Are there areas that can be buttressed to ensure academic benchmarks of knowledge? In many cases, rigor is not the issue; instead it is an emphasis on content that may not be as relevant to the expectations of the subsequent upper level courses at the university. Four year colleges and universities may be willing to offer advisors or campus visits on a regular basis. Two plus two arrangements are usually seen as beneficial for all parties involved. These programs require proactive communication between institutions, a willingness to scrutinize details and processes, and a commitment to confront roadblocks and assumptions.
Community colleges, over the past several years, have experienced a more intense glare of the spotlight on accountability. Persistence, graduation, as well as transfer and/or job placement rates are metrics that are more highly reported and must be demonstrated. Providing students with a transfer plan with benchmarks and connection to their four year institution of choice will support their community college coursework and their transition. Stronger connections with the receiving institutions will also assist students’ realization of their goals. These outcomes obviously benefit students and importantly, they have great potential to improve results on community college accountability measures.
In addition to improving their own accountability, community colleges are well positioned to become an ever greater catalyst in national economic development. Demographics are changing rapidly and minority groups continue to represent an increasingly larger share of the U.S. population. The U.S. Census projects that white Americans will be a minority by the year 2045 – only thirty years from now. These demographic shifts will greatly affect educational attainment in America. Currently, among 25-29 year olds, 41% of white Americans hold bachelor’s degrees, compared to 22% of African Americans and 15% of Hispanic Americans (NCES 2015). Today, whites are far more likely to earn bachelor’s degrees but as the country becomes more diverse, we must facilitate the attainment of bachelor’s degrees at levels that are comparable across population subgroups. In order to meet the demands for educated talent as we move through the 21st century, larger numbers of minorities will have to earn bachelor’s degrees in order to provide a workforce that will sustain national economic development.
The gap between the percentage of whites and minorities who enter college shortly after graduating high school has narrowed significant over the past two decades. The percentage of entering students is now similar for both groups, but minority students are much more likely to enter postsecondary education at the community college.
Georgetown Public Policy Institute reported that between 1995 and 2009, African American enrollment grew by 44% at the two-year college and only 7% within the top 468 US colleges and universities. Hispanic enrollment grew by 48% at the two-year college, while it grew just 10 % at the top colleges. White enrollment grew by 72% at the top colleges and stayed even at the two-year colleges.
The growth in minority student enrollment is largely taking place at the community college level. In order to ensure that access leads to success and social mobility, there will have to be a stronger focus on connecting community college students to their four year aspirations.
Community colleges have a proud history in this country, beginning more than 100 years ago with Joliet Junior College. After several decades of growth, President Harry Truman’s Higher Education for American Democracy report led to his push, in 1947, for a national network of community colleges. That spawned an era of explosive growth that lasted throughout the second half of the century. Today, there are 7.4 million credit students enrolled in 1,123 community colleges throughout the United States. Approximately 46% of all of undergraduate students in this country are attending community colleges. These stealthy institutions have grown and thrived right under our noses to become leading providers of higher education in our diverse nation.
Embracing every challenge, community colleges continue to support individual, economic and national growth. Student intention, dynamic demographics and economic necessity are pushing the envelope even further. Improving transfer results has become a critical responsibility for community colleges to effectively respond to these demands. This will require focused planning and strategy as well as significant amounts of collaboration and action.