University Leaders Report: How to Increase Transfers from Community Colleges

University Leaders Report: How to Increase Transfers from Community Colleges
Many students start their academic careers at a community college, hoping to transfer to a four-year university, but find themselves missing the mark. Thankfully, a new report surveying university leaders provides ideas on how to help students make the transfer successfully.

While community colleges offer a wealth of options in associate degree programs and practical career training, the majority of students that grace a community college campus for a period of time are not content with a degree from these schools. In fact, the large majority of community college students have plans to further their education by eventually transferring their credits to a four-year institution. This is the precise subject of the latest report by the College Board that looked at the high number of community college students that want to transfer to a four-year university and why.

About the Report

College Board is a non-profit organization committed to equality in education, from the early primary years all the way through postsecondary education. This particular report, titled, “Improving Student Transfer from Community Colleges to Four-Year Institutions,” was designed to emphasize the importance of smooth pathways between community colleges and other institutions of higher education. The College Board website estimates that more than 7 million students enrolled in community colleges – up to 41 percent of all college students across the country - at any given time. With so many students enrolled in community colleges, it is important to assess what the choices for these students might be should they decide to continue to pursue their education after their initial degree program is completed.

This video shows college leaders discussing improvements to the transfer process.

To compile this report, the College Board interviewed 21 education leaders at 12 institutions of higher education across the country, according to an article on the New York Times blog. The report is based on figures from the U.S. Department of Education that show as many as four of every five community college students want to transfer to a four-year institution at some point during their postsecondary education. To achieve that end, these students require a smooth, effective transfer process, but that is not always what they encounter when they leave the confines of a community college for additional educational opportunities. This is particularly true with students that come from underserved communities.

Stephen J. Handel, author of the report and executive director of Community College Initiatives at College Board, said in a press release on the organization’s website, “Community colleges are often criticized for not transferring more students. But four-year institutions are at least equal partners in the success of the transfer pathway. This report begins to identify the issues and concerns four-year institution leaders face in attempting to serve more community college transfer students on their campuses.”

Where is the Focus?

While previous studies on transfer rates have primarily focused on the two-year institutions, the preface of the report explains that relatively little attention has been paid to the four-year colleges and universities on which transfer students have set their sights. However, these schools have realized that recent events, including the Great Recession and increased competition in a global marketplace, have created a need for a more efficient transfer process. By interviewing leaders at some of these four-year institutions, the College Board was able to collect information about the transfer process that has not been included in studies in the past.

The study also highlights many of the benefits four-year universities can enjoy by bringing more transfer students to their campuses. First and foremost, transfer students bring diversity to the university environment, whether it is geographical, cultural, or age-related. Transfer students also tend to be higher academic achievers as a general rule, increasing the completion and success rates at four-year institutions. As the benefits of transfer students continue to be weighed, it becomes clear that allowing more transfer students into four-year universities becomes a multi-beneficial process, rather than a simple act of charity.

What the Study Found

The College Board Report released the following findings on improving transfer pathways:

  • Schools need to create an institution-wide vision that includes transfer students in the process
  • Transfer students should be treated in a similar manner to first-year students in outreach, admission, and academic affairs
  • Schools need to understand that the needs of transfer students may differ somewhat from the needs of first-year students

These suggestions were made by the leaders of four-year institutions interviewed for the study, in hopes of improving transfer pathways overall.

This video explains the student transfer process.

Recommendations for Four-Year Institutions

In addition to the general guidelines proposed by the officials of four-year institutions, the College Board also made the following, specific recommendations to four-year schools interested in improving transfer rates:

  • Leaders at four-year institutions must be committed to improving the transfer pathway
  • Preparation and outreach must be provided for both staff and students at these schools
  • Admission and enrollment must be easier to navigate and complete
  • Financial aid options must be available to transfer applicants as well as first-year students
  • Student and academic affairs on the school campus must be available to transfer students

Although the report only looked at a handful of four-year schools across the country, the purpose of the study was primarily to evaluate how the representative schools successfully engaged to transfer pathway, so that other schools could follow suit. However, the report also acknowledges that many leaders of four-year universities may not be convinced that improving transfer pathways provides the greatest value in increasing enrollment and success rates. While this may be true for some universities that do not want to provide space for transfer students at the interference of traditional first-year student enrollment, it does appear that the majority of schools would benefit from more effective transfer pathways rather than finding them a hindrance.

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