A consensus is emerging on the most effective way to improve the rates of successful student transfer from community colleges to—and through—universities.
In January, the Community College Research Center (CCRC), the Aspen Institute and the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center released Tracking Transfer: New measures of Institutional and State Effectiveness in Helping Community College Students Attain Bachelor’s Degrees. The report offers insight on states with a robust transfer pipeline from community colleges to four-year schools, according to an article by Ellen Ullman, in the AACC 21st Century Center.
Two key figures are interviewed in the article: Davis Jenkins, a senior research associate at CCRC (and a previous TCCTA presenter), and Josh Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program.
Importantly, current research does not indicate that schools with a high proportion of low-income students are destined to lag behind. In practical terms this means that, based on impressive comparisons of schools, institutional practices make a big difference. Also, the research focuses on transfer students who actually graduate with a baccalaureate degree.
Here is a key segment of the interview:
What are some of the factors that help students attain a bachelor’s degree?
Jenkins: We recently visited six pairs of two- and four-year institutions with strong outcomes for transfer students, and we found clear things that are working at both levels, such as a strong collaboration between the two institutions, a focus on academic rigor at the community college level, customized intake and advising for transfer students at four-years, and high expectations for all students — including low-income students — at both institutions. We will summarize these findings in a practitioners’ guide that will be published this spring.
Wyner: What our site visits showed is that strong outcomes are built on two functions above all others: clear pathways and much stronger advising. Our visit to Washington state revealed excellent practices in devising clear pathways between institutions, statewide agreements on programs of study (especially in science), and strong advising aimed at helping community college students choose a major and transfer destination early on. These are things other states and institutional partnerships need to focus on.
Jenkins: Co-location of advisers and administrative presence on each other’s campuses is another effective practice we saw. It signals that transfer students are a priority.
Some may question the wisdom or practicality of the recommendations. "Clear pathways" could involve limiting student options in course selection, moving away from the buffet-style menu of choices. And "stronger advising" could be expensive, since it requires a physical presence at both the sending and receiving institutions. But some community colleges and universities in Texas are already employing this strategy as part of articulation agreements, especially at the regional level. As always, larger schools will likely have an advantage.
However, for most faculty members, the recommended approach commendably emphasizes academic rigor and high expectations. Instructors should be able to endorse such a strategy comfortably.