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Report: Community College Transfers Thrive at Four-Year Colleges

By Corey Murray

Study shows that community college students, when given the proper guidance, thrive in the four-year college environment.

With the growing emphasis on transfer programs at community colleges, there’s been a lot of debate about the success rates of students who make the jump from two-year to four-year colleges.

According to the findings of one study, which we reported on earlier this week, transfer students who earn their associate degree before moving on to a four-year college fare significantly better than those who transfer without first earning an AA. That news came not long after a City University of New York report indicated that 14 percent of community college students who transfer to four-year colleges lose all of the credits they have earned, while little more than half (58 percent) of transfers were able to keep 90 percent of their credits. Ouch.

If you blinked, you might well have missed the results of another report. This one, from researchers at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, contends that community college students, especially those from low-income and minority families, often do well at four-year universities, provided they get some much-needed help along the way.

Partnerships That Promote Success, which I first read about in Philanthropy News Digest, considers information collected from eight colleges participating in the Jack Kent Cook Foundation’s Community College Transfer Initiative, part of a roughly $7 million program dedicated to helping at-risk students complete bachelor’s degrees at some of the nation’s most prestigious colleges and universities. The study’s authors serve up a long list of lessons learned, which may help colleges that are looking to improve the transfer process.

Among the suggestions:

Secure buy-in from staff and faculty. Make sure your transfer plan is founded on collaboration with students, faculty and leadership. Be open and transparent about your policies, and include key faculty and staff members from across your institution in the decision-making process.

Identify the right people; support them from start to finish. Comb through your honors programs and identify the students who are primed to succeed. Ask your instructors for a list of students who show promise but never intend to transfer. Identify these candidates early in their academic careers, and appoint a dedicated staff member to pair transfer candidates with advisers, instructors, financial aid experts and others who can prepare the students for the transition by imparting necessary “college survival skills.” Provide access to tutoring and other services, and make sure students know about — and use — these programs. And be clear in your policies and procedures so that students who enter your college intending to transfer know what’s expected of them from day one.

Work hand in hand with four-year partners. According to the Partnerships study the most successful community college transfer programs demonstrated close relationships between participating institutions. Advisory groups should be formed across campuses to share information and promising practices and to ensure administrators from the different transfer institutions are moving forward with a similar goal and vision in mind.

Involve students. Students don’t have to just go through the program; the study suggests they can also help run the program and be advocates for its success. Consider using students for your outreach programs and pairing successful transfers with those who are just entering the system. Get them talking, and poll them for feedback and suggestions.

Use data. Even the most promising transfer programs aren’t likely to succeed unless you find a way to measure the results and are open to making changes. You need to constantly evaluate your efforts and collect information to help sustain success.

Be your own program. The study points out that no two transfer programs are alike. Though institutions are right to share promising practices, each college and community has its own set of demographics and circumstances that it needs to account for, and those differences will shape the future of your transfer students.

Has your college recently spent time considering the merits of its transfer program? Tell us about it.

Corey Murray

is editor of the 21st-Century Center.

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