While community colleges provide an excellent opportunity to transfer to four-year institutions
, the latest statistics are not optimistic. In fact, according to the most recent accountability report
released by California's community college system, only 40% of community college students who seek four-year degrees are successful in transferring to one of the state's four-year universities.
In California, 60% of community college students who intended to transfer to four-year universities never meet their goal - which has led to the formation of a state task force charged with finding ways to improve the transfer rate, as reported by the Mercury News
The obstacles facing community college students wishing to transfer to four-year universities are formidable. Overcrowded community college campuses make enrolling in required pre-requisite courses difficult. Rising tuitions
at public universities means four-year degrees are now unaffordable for some students. In addition, a lack of standardization in transfer requirements statewide makes the transfer process feel like a confusing maze to many degree-seeking students.
Indeed, there is much room for improvement in helping more community college students transfer to four-year universities.
Why Some Students Never Make It to Four-Year Universities
Community college students who wish to transfer to a four-year university in today's educational climate face a number of potential roadblocks - a fact which may account for the high number of community college students who never make it through the doors of a four-year university.
Overcrowded Community College Campuses
Many community colleges in California and across the nation are struggling to cope with a recent surge of new students who have chosen to pursue higher education in hopes of bettering their chances in today's grim job market.
Unfortunately, few community colleges have been adequately prepared for this sharp uptick in enrollment
. As a result, many students may find that courses they need to take to fulfill transfer requirements are already filled to maximum enrollment. This can significantly set back a student's plans of transferring to a four-year university by months or even years.
The Rising Cost of Four-Year Universities
Four-year universities in California, facing sharp reductions in the funding they receive from the state, have been raising tuition and student fees in order to stay financially afloat. The increased cost of attending a public four-year university must be considered as a factor in the low number of community college students who successfully transfer to these universities. The rising tuition may make attending a University of California or California State University campus prohibitively expensive, particularly for those community college students who come from economically or educationally disadvantaged backgrounds.
Confusing Transfer Requirements
The confusing nature of the transfer process is a major culprit in hindering community college students from successfully transferring. The key problem stems from the lack of agreements between campuses about course transferability.
Individual community colleges make agreements with state four-year universities regarding which courses will be accepted for transfer credit
, but there is no definitive set of courses will be guaranteed to be accepted for transfer credit at any of California's four-year universities. In addition, the requirements for transferring to the same major (for example, psychology) will often differ between one state university and another.
The segmented nature of the state universities' transfer requirements is often attributed to California's tradition of giving individual faculties autonomy over their institutions' curricula. The result of this autonomy, however, is that a community college student who has fulfilled the requirements for transfer to one state university may not have fulfilled the transfer requirements to another.
Additionally, the lack of standardization in course names and numbers may frustrate students who have taken courses that sound quite similar to the transfer requirements for a given university, but are actually not on the list of officially-approved transfer courses.
What Can Be Done to Improve the Transfer Rate
A recent report from the Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Policy
offers several recommendations for California's community colleges. Specifically, the report urges the state legislature to direct California's community colleges to develop transfer-ready associate's degrees
that students could complete at any community college campus. Upon completion, this would guarantee students admission to a four-year public university (although not to any specific campus).
The report also recommends that California's community colleges
work together with the California State University and the University of California system to develop a standardized set of General Education requirements that would be accepted for lower-division degree credit at all state universities.
Finally, the report calls for California community colleges, again working with the CSU and UC systems, to develop a set of requirements of courses to be completed for transfer acceptance to a common set of majors, "with minimal variations across institutions within majors."
While the state may not be able to immediately solve the problems raised by swelling community college enrollments or rising tuition at four-year universities, the Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Policy's report makes it clear that it is within California's power to make the process of transferring from a community college to a four-year university more student-friendly.
These changes are certainly applicable nationwide, and with the right policies, the percentage of community college students who successfully achieve their goals of attending four-year universities will certainly grow.