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Ed. Department, Congress Focus On Community College Transfer of Credit Problem

low-income students, paying for college is hard enough without having to repeat
courses. That’s why U.S. Department of Education Secretary Margaret Spellings
and many scholars are looking for answers that will help more students transfer
credits when they move from one higher education institution to another.

problem is particularly acute for low-income, first-generation students at
community colleges, where transfer agreements may not lead to a student gaining
credit for coursework already completed.

Of the
42 percent of community college students who plan to transfer to four-year
colleges, only about a quarter of them succeed, Spellings said recently.

inability to transfer credits is too high a hurdle. Every year, millions of
students who attempt to transfer are forced to spend more money and time
repeating coursework,” she said. “The most costly education is one not begun,
or the one you have to pay for twice.”

said she plans to launch demonstration programs where states and higher
education administrators work together on effective strategies for transfer

Many colleges serving a
large percentage of minority students are already aware of the problem.
Sometimes with federal assistance, they have funded initiatives that may pave
the way for more students to transfer from two- and four-year colleges and

Educators at the
two-year East Los Angeles College
offer Learning Communities, an in-depth outreach effort to help students — most
of them low-income — navigate the sometimes confusing higher education system.

“The biggest
issue is that students don’t have the right information,” says Dr. Armida
Ornelas, an associate professor of social sciences at the college. “For many
first-generation students, this is all new terrain. Most of the time,
[community college students] are not taking the curriculum that makes them

For example,
Ornelas says students may take a basic English course even though a
higher-level course is required to transfer to a four-year institution.

And even those
who can transfer basic courses still need help creating a career path so more
of their courses at a two-year college apply toward their undergraduate major.

Los Angeles College
is funding its Learning Communities program through a Title V Higher Education
Act grant for Hispanic-serving institutions. The centerpiece of the initiative
is a support team that offers students a variety of academic, counseling and
study skills assistance.

The program includes peer support, visits to
four-year campuses and partnerships with faculty to create block scheduling for
students who need it for academic reasons or to balance work and school. A
primary goal for the program is that all participating students will develop an
education plan that allows them to transfer to a four-year school and get
credit toward their major.

“There is so
much misinformation about the transfer process,” Ornelas says. The college’s
goal is to achieve a tangible increase in degree completion and transfer rates
for students.

Such programs
also are popular in Florida’s
two-year college system, where a long-term analysis shows gains among students
who participate in the programs.

Students who took a life skills course were more likely than
other students to transfer to the state university system, earn an academic
credential or remain in college after five years, says a new study from Columbia University’s
Community College Research Center. The life skills course was particularly
important for students required to take at least one remedial course, said the
study from CCRC researchers Matthew Zeidenberg, Davis Jenkins and Juan Carlos

Congress also is
getting involved in the transfer topic as it prepares to reauthorize the Higher
Education Act. A bill approved by a House committee would require colleges to
list detailed information about their institution, including graduation rates
and, when applicable, community colleges would report the percentage of their
students who transfer to four-year institutions.

Along with
tuition and fee information, such information would be available on a federal
College Opportunity On-Line Web site. The site would have links where
individual institutions would publish their transfer policies and articulation
agreements. This type of information is essential to low-income students, the
House bill states.

A Senate HEA
bill now under consideration has similar language, with colleges required to
describe their credit transfer policies in a “readable manner” for consumers.
Colleges’ student outcome data also would include information on the transfer
rates of two-year students to four-year institutions.

But while such
information may smooth the transition process for some students, Spellings says
more action is needed to address the issue.

“For those who challenge whether or not we should be
acting at all, the facts speak for themselves,” she said, noting that millions
of students must spend more money and time repeating courses they took
previously. “Billions and billions of dollars are wasted by students and
institutions because of this issue.”

– Charles Dervarics

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