The reason many high-achieving community college students don’t transfer to competitive four-year institutions is not because they lack the ability or desire but because they don’t have the resources and support. So says a recent report from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, which awards college scholarships to high-achieving low-income students.
The January 2015 report, Breaking Down Walls: Increasing Access to Four-Year Colleges for High-Achieving Community College Students, reveals that with proper support, Cooke Scholars who received scholarships upon transfer have attended and graduated from some of the nation’s most elite universities. In fact, 35 percent of community college students who received the foundation’s Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship transferred to colleges and universities Barron’s describes as “most competitive,” and 97 percent of all recipients earned their bachelor’s degrees within three years.
“We found that community college students who transferred performed on par with those who had been at four-year schools all along; they didn’t struggle,” says Emily Froimson, vice president of programs for the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. “A lot of high-ability students that start off at community college should have the same opportunities as other students, and they don’t right now.”
What barriers do transfer students face?
Barriers to transfer stem from both the community colleges and the four-year institutions, Froimson says. Following are some of the obstacles that prevent capable students from transferring:
- Four-year institutions don’t always make it clear that their doors are open to community college transfers. Often it’s difficult to find transfer information on their websites, and most admissions information and recruitment activities are geared toward high school students.
- Credit transfers can be very difficult at private colleges and universities. Many of these institutions don’t have articulation agreements with community colleges, so transfer students are faced with the expensive prospect of losing credits and having to attend another year.
- Community colleges often lack adequate advising services to help students make the transition to four-year institutions.
- Institutional financial aid information is often not transparent and needs to be available earlier. For low-income transfer students, tuition at some of the top colleges and universities will be much less than what’s advertised (or even free), but many of these students don’t know that.
Through its Community College Transfer Initiative, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation teamed up with 14 elite four-year institutions to establish programs for community college students interested in transferring. The programs ranged from summer sessions co-taught by both community college and university faculty to meetings between students and community college faculty advisers that cover which courses will transfer.
For example, the University of Michigan spent three years visiting all 31 community colleges in the state, Froimson says. The university then revamped its website, making it more accessible for community college transfer students. The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, partnered with three community colleges to periodically bring selected students to the university for cultural events. “If the students maintained a certain GPA, they could automatically transfer,” Froimson says.
Community colleges serve diverse populations, including exceptionally bright students from low-income backgrounds, many of whom are the first in their families to go to college. The “cultural shift” from two- to four-year institutions is often the biggest challenge for these transfer students.
“It’s not the academics that the students struggle with, but the social and wealth differences, the sense of entitlement,” Froimson says. When these students are provided the information, tools and resources to transfer in a supportive environment, success is more likely.
“That’s why four-year institutions need to be more intentional with community college students,” Froimson says. “There needs to be more communication between the faculty and administration to make the pathways more seamless for those students.”
The Cooke Scholars know that a four-year degree will provide more opportunities than were available growing up. “They don’t take it for granted,” Froimson says.
How does your community college help students make the transition to four-year institutions? Tell us in the Comments.