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5 Reasons to Streamline Vertical Transfer Pathways

Posted on 3/3/2016 by AcademyOne Insights

Community colleges serve as an entry point to our nation’s postsecondary education for a growing number of students. They offer an affordable pathway to a bachelor’s degree through transfer. While the majority of community college students originally intend to take this path, sadly many do not. They often experience significant barriers to transfer, with the most critical being the loss of credits. As the higher education landscape changes and four-year institutions face dynamic enrollment challenges, transfer students have become increasingly important. As efforts continue to be made by state policymakers to improve the process and degree outcomes for transfer students, community colleges and four-year universities need to improve collaboration in order to raise degree attainment levels.

  • Community colleges serve a significant number of students.

    workforce Demannds

    They are a crucial part of our nation’s higher education system, and provide a diverse group of students with open access to an affordable postsecondary education. They deliver the educational building blocks these students need to transfer to four-year institutions.

    1,108 community colleges in the United States enroll 12.3 million students and serve nearly half of all undergraduates.1 They fulfill multiple missions—from workforce training, to remediating students in preparation for higher education, as well as community enrichment. These community colleges provide educational opportunities to students who have been unable, for a variety of reasons, to start at a four-year institution.

    [1] ”2016 Community College Fast Facts,”American Association of Community Colleges, February 2016.

  • Community college transfers are falling short of their goals.

    workforce Demands

    Many students arrive at community college with the objective of completing a certificate or an associate’s degree. However, 80% enter with the intention of transferring to a four-year university and earning a bachelor’s degree or higher.2 While their intentions are a reflection of the success of transfer awareness programs, the outcomes have not followed suit. Research indicates that only 33% of community college students actually transfer to a four-year institution within six years. 42% of those students complete a bachelor’s degree within six years. This means that only 14% of all entering community college students earn a bachelor's degree within six years. In addition, only 29% of community college students that transfer to a four-year university do so after first earning an associate’s degree or certificate.3 This leaves a vast majority of students without a degree.

    [2] ”Community College Student Outcomes 1994-2009,” Horn & Skomsvold, National Center for Education Statistics, November 2011.

    [3] ”Tracking Transfer: New Measures of Institutional and State Effectiveness in Helping Community College Students Attain Bachelor’s Degrees,” Community College Research Center, January 2016.

  • Credit loss is a major barrier for community college transfers.

    workforce Demands

    One of the biggest barriers community college students face when transferring is credit loss. Research indicates that 14% of these transfers lose more than 90% of their credits. This means they must essentially start fresh after transferring. Another 28% lose between 10% and 89% of their credits, and only 58% were able to bring at least 90% of their credits with them. The students who are able to keep all or almost all of their credits are 2.5 times more likely to earn a bachelor's degree than those with less than half of their credits transferred.4 Naturally, credit loss has a negative impact on degree completion since students are left spending more time and money repeating courses.

    [4] ”The Community College Route to the Bachelor’s Degree,” Attewell & Monaghan, Graduate Center of the City University of New York, March 2014.

  • Community college transfers are integral to four-year universities.

    workforce Demands

    Among community college students that transfer, 42% go to four-year public institutions and about 20% to private.5 Many of these institutions have made transfer students an integral part of their overall enrollment management strategy as they face a combination of demographic, economic and political changes.

    Over the last decade there has been a decline in the traditional college student population and growth in the nontraditional populace. There are now 8.2 million adult learners that account for roughly 40% of all college students.6 Nontraditional students typically have personal and professional demands that make it more challenging to meet their academic goals. They often turn to community colleges to provide them access to a more affordable and accessible education.

    With state funding shrinking, tuition costs rising and a rebounding economy luring students back into the job market, college enrollments continue to decline. For the eighth semester in a row, enrollments were down nearly 2% this fall from last year.7 Compounding the financial woes facing four-year universities, students who would otherwise have enrolled may be drawn to community colleges especially if President Obama and some state policymakers roll out their free community college policies.

    [5] ”Transfer & Mobility: A National View of Student Movement in Postsecondary Institutions,” National Student Clearinghouse, July 2015.

    [6] ”Digest of Education Statistics,” National Center for Education Statistics, 2013.

    [7] ”Current Term Enrollment Estimates – Fall 2015,” National Student Clearinghouse, December 2015.

  • Collaboration is key to strengthening the transfer process.

    workforce Demands

    When community college transfer offerings are not aligned with university degree program requirements, students often end up confused. More often than not, they take courses that aren’t accepted for credit toward degrees in their desired majors or programs of study. As a result, this adds to the time and cost it takes them to get a bachelor’s degree. Many become discouraged and drop out of college altogether.

    Efforts continue to be made to improve the process and degree outcomes for community college transfers by many state policymakers. Over two-thirds of states have adopted policies to facilitate transfer from community colleges to in-state four-year institutions.8 Some have developed common course numbering systems, while others have developed agreements that guarantee the transfer of particular course credits or sets of courses. Increasingly, some states have endorsed policies that guarantee transfer with junior status to community college students who complete their associate’s degree before transferring.

    In order to effectively address the barriers in the transfer process, we cannot just rely on state policies. Community colleges and their partner four-year institutions need to proactively collaborate with each other and commit to enact changes in institutional practice related to curricular alignment. While this will require significant effort, research indicates that states with solid partnerships between community colleges and four-year universities have better degree completion rates.8

    [8] ”Tracking Transfer: New Measures of Institutional and State Effectiveness in Helping Community College Students Attain Bachelor’s Degrees,” Community College Research Center, January 2016.

  • Conclusion

    workforce Demands

    Strengthening transfer pathways is a win-win. Students who find it easier to transfer should lead to higher completion rates for both community colleges and their companion four-year universities.

    AcademyOne has the technology and resources to help these institutions actively collaborate with each other and maximize their state efforts to strengthen transfer pathways. Our Virtual Transfer Advisor is a web-based advising application that assists students in smoothly completing and transferring an associate’s degree and/or coursework to a partnering four-year institution. Students can plan their transfer so that they know how their courses will be accepted for credit, how the courses they need will count toward their major and the remaining courses to fulfill degree requirements before they ever transfer.

    To learn more about how AcademyOne helps facilitate transfer pathways, check out our Delaware County Community College Case Study.

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