Transfer Matters

Building Bridges To Success

Community College Transfer specializes in the development of your comprehensive Strategic Transfer Plan, working with your team to review, evaluate, and adjust enrollment strategy to achieve an increased number of transfer students and an improved environment that supports the successful transition of transfer students to your campus. Other services include 

  Our Solvable Problem with Transfer

Every year, approximately 1.5 million students make their entry into higher education at one of the nation’s 1,100+ community colleges.  The National Center for Education Statistics reports that over 80% of these students intend to earn a bachelor’s degree.  Unfortunately for most, their intentions go unrealized.  After five years, only 25% of the community college students have transferred to a four year college.  After six years, only 17% have earned a bachelor’s degree.  This sharp mismatch between student intent and baccalaureate achievement is a monumental challenge generating negative consequences for students, institutions and society at large. 

But it also presents a valuable opportunity. There is potential in the pipeline and tapping into it promises great rewards. Thus far, it is an underutilized strategy, despite the significant gains to be had by simply connecting the dots.  Two and four year colleges and universities need to work on enhancing communication, improving links between institutions, conducting better outreach and collaborating on a shared mission. 

Although the percentage of students who transfer is unacceptably low, the good news is that those who do successfully move over to a four year institution are very likely to experience graduation rates similar to those of the students who entered the institution directly from high school.  There is no question about the potential efficacy of the transfer process; students who have transferred from a two to a four year institution tend to perform very well academically. According to the National Student Clearinghouse, 62% of transfers go on to earn a bachelor’s degree within six years and for students who earn their associate's degree before transfer, 71% earn bachelor's degree within six years. These facts call for renewed and purposeful efforts to increase the number of students who transfer.  Once students overcome the hurdle of moving past the community college, they are likely to realize their goal of earning a bachelor’s degree.

Four year institutions have much to gain from expanded transfer programs and increased enrollment is only one of the benefits.  As most administrators can attest, there is a great degree of attrition that occurs during students’ first year of college.  At private four-year institutions, an average of 25% do not return for their second year and that number is even higher at public colleges (ACT 2014). These are expensive losses, especially as both public and private institutions have become even more dependent on tuition dollars to meet expenses.  Upper-level classes still need to be taught for native students who need to finish the higher-level coursework in their programs; one clearly cost-effective solution is to fill vacant seats with transfer students at the sophomore, junior and senior levels.

Stronger connections with the community college will also help four year institutions to more effectively enroll and serve the growing diversity of this nation.  Minority populations in America represent an increasingly larger share of the population and the US Census projects that by the year 2045, white Americans will be in the minority.  Currently, bachelor’s degree attainment varies markedly by race.  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).  As the country becomes more diverse, it will be important to strive toward the attainment of bachelor’s degrees at levels that are equal 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.

Interestingly, the gap between the percentage of whites and minorities who enter college shortly after graduating high school has narrowed significantly over the past two decades. College going rates are now similar for both groups, but minority students are much more likely to enter postsecondary education at the community college. 

The Georgetown Public Policy Institute found that between 1995 and 2009, African American enrollment grew by 44% at the two-year college and only 7% within the top 468 U.S. 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.  With the growth in minority student enrollment largely taking place at the community college level, four year universities looking to increase diversity have every reason to build stronger connections with two year institutions.

A number of national trends are unfolding that put a stronger onus on four year colleges and universities to enhance connections with community colleges and their students.  Climbing tuition costs have made starting at the community college a more attractive option.  Over the past several decades, economic pressures have forced universities to raise tuition, raising concerns about limiting access. College tuition and fees have risen four times faster than the increase in the consumer price index over the past thirty years (Bloomberg 2012). In this environment, where advanced education remains a prerequisite for economic progress even as costs skyrocket, the community college has become an increasingly viable route toward a bachelor’s degree.

The cohort of 18-19 year olds peaked in the year 2010-2011, and the age group is now moving into a period of modest decline that is expected to continue through 2020 (WICHE, 2012).  Colleges will be competing to recruit from smaller pools of students. One way to address the gaps created by a shrinking freshman class is to build more purposeful links with potential transfer students to familiarize them with the receiving institution, and more importantly, to ensure that their course schedules for the first two years track smoothly with the university’s program requirements.

Finally, the grand initiative that has the potential to affect enrollment at four-year universities is the federal government's push for free community college tuition. The states of Oregon and Tennessee have already signed onto this initiative, and legislation has been introduced in the U.S.. Congress. Free community college would offer students the chance to complete their first two years without cost, thereby limiting their debt and still providing the opportunity to achieve the exact same degree as if they had entered the four-year institution as freshman. This option makes all the sense in the world.  As this issue continues to play out on the airways and in legislative chambers, more people will be open to exploring the possibility of starting at a two-year college.  Amid this growth in attention and legitimacy, four-year institutions are well advised to shore up their links with community colleges and their students.

Today, there are 7.4 million credit students enrolled in 1,123 community colleges throughout the United States.  Approximately 46 percent of all of undergraduate students in this country are attending community colleges and over 40% of new college students enter there. These stealthy institutions have grown and thrived right under our noses to become leading providers of higher education in our diverse nation. 

It’s time to focus on building better bridges to the bachelor’s degree.  We must strengthen the bridges between two and four year institutions to ensure a coherent pathway that is navigable, understandable and supportive. Overwhelming percentages of community college students express an interest in earning their bachelor’s degrees.  Their unrealized goals loom over us, threatening to become a great drain on national economic production, prosperity and trademark American innovation. 


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