Community college transfers fare well despite small numbers
- Students transferring from a community college to a four-year institution are equally or more likely to graduate in six years than students matriculating from high school, although they account for a relatively small share of all students, according to a new report from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.
- The more competitive an institution, the smaller its share of community college transfers. At the most competitive, those transfers accounted for 5% of new students in the fall of 2016 as compared to 21% at less competitive colleges.
- Yet data for students entering the most selective institutions in the fall of 2010 show that slightly more community college transfers (76%) than either high school matriculants (75.5%) or transfers from other four-year colleges (55%) graduated within six years. Community college transfers had the highest six-year graduation rates across all levels of competitiveness.
The report sheds light on the transfer patterns of a group more colleges hope to attract. Yet doing so hasn't proven easy, with barriers for students who want to transfer including poor advising, complex credit transfer policies, limited space at four-year institutions and difficulty with securing financial aid.
When community college students do transfer, more head to public institutions than to private ones. The report found that 17% students entering public colleges in the fall of 2016 transferred from community colleges as compared to 10% of those entering private colleges. At all levels of selectivity, public colleges enroll more community college transfers than do private colleges, with the most selective public colleges enrolling almost double the number as private ones.
Affordability is one reason public colleges tend to draw more transfer students, the report notes. They are also more likely to have a relationship with community colleges that forges a transfer pathway, such as that between California Community Colleges and the state's two four-year public university systems.
The report didn't parse the data by race, ethnicity and socioeconomics, but other research has found wide variation in outcomes. Of students who began college in the fall of 2010, nearly one in four Asian students and one in five white students at four-year institutions who started at a community college finished a bachelor's within six years, compared to one in 10 Hispanic students and one in 12 black students, per data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
What's more, 84% of two-year colleges in the U.S. transferred at least one student to a selective four-year college in the fall of 2016. That means there's a need to strengthen these pathways across the board.
The report offers several tactics for selective four-year colleges to improve transfer rates and outcomes among community college students. They range from fundraising for endowed scholarships and facilitating campus visits to improving credit transfer policies and using social integration strategies like peer mentors to help students adjust.
"Having a designated staff person on campus whose job it is to think about transfer students proved to be one of the most important investments," said Jennifer Glynn, director of research and evaluation at the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, referencing previous work with grantees and community colleges.
That can include developing an orientation program tailored to their needs, determining what information they require to transfer credits, and anticipating challenges with registering for certain majors that have many prerequisites.
The relationship between clear programmatic pathways and advising for community college transfer students and those students' success was a finding of a separate report from the Columbia University Community College Research Center and the Aspen Institute.
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