Report: Community college students who take unneeded courses least likely to graduate
- Research shows that only about 60% of community college students can successfully transfer most credits when transferring to a four-year school, and 15% are able to transfer few credits, according to a working paper published by the Community College Research Center, Campus Technology reported. This makes it harder for students to graduate with a bachelor’s degree, as it increases both the costs and time necessary to reach the finish line. Students who do graduate often earn many more credits than necessary.
- In a study of students in two states who transferred from a two-year school to a four-year state university, those who were told to take general education classes at a community college “to get them out of the way” often needed to take 100- and 200-level courses before they could sign up for the 300-level coursework at that would allow them to graduate. Researchers also found community college transfers tended to take 100-level courses, especially in math, soon after moving to a four-year college, according to Campus Technology. Many were still taking lower-level credits even after reaching the 60-credit mark.
- Graduation is most successful when community colleges and four-year institutions align their programs and offer specific training advising to get students on the right track for their chosen majors. “Our findings highlight the importance of early advising and other supports focused on helping students explore career and academic options and choose a program of study,” the report said. Advisors at community colleges who tell students to tackle gen ed requirements right away in order to have the greatest flexibility in choosing a major later are not serving students well, the report stated.
Community colleges that wish to market themselves as an affordable way for students to earn lower-level courses should encourage learners to choose majors early, and use intense advising to create clear pathways to graduation from a four-year school. According to the CCRC’s paper, “For leaders at community colleges and four-year institutions, our findings highlight the importance of early advising and other supports focused on helping students explore career and academic options and choose a program of study.” This is especially important for low-income or marginalized students who may be the least able to afford the time or expense of unneeded credits.
Some community colleges and four-year institutions are working together to create strong articulation agreements for smooth credit transfer. Ohio, for example, has aligned all its public institutions and tells students they “can start anywhere, graduate anywhere.”
Students are increasingly mobile, and nearly 38% will transfer from one college to another within six years, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Early planning becomes even more important as high school students increase the number of dual-enrollment courses they take in order to complete college courses for free.
The convenience and cost-savings of earning credits before entering a four-year college is a noble idea, but only if students are given clear direction early on, with some guarantee that those credits will transfer.