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Community College Transfers

Community College Transfers
Shut Out of Elite Colleges

The doors of the nation’s most selective colleges and universities have begun closing in the faces of low-income transfer students from community colleges, suggests a new study by the University of Massachusetts-Boston and the University of Southern California.

“The Study of Economic, Informational and Cultural Barriers to Community College Student Transfer Access at Selective Universities” found 10.5 percent of students entering elite, private, four-year schools were transfer students in 1984. But by 2002, that percentage had been cut in half, to 5.7 percent.

Students who do manage to transfer are usually atypical community college students from well-to-do families, the study says. Making that transfer is an immense task that needs a lot of guidance, particularly from community college faculty and administrators, says Dr. Alicia C. Dowd, the study’s lead researcher.

About half of all minority undergraduate students attend community colleges, according to statistics from the American Association of Community Colleges.

At least one critic questioned the report’s credibility. The report’s data are too dated [through 2002] to use to “demand changes in an American system of higher education that is actually working both effectively and democratically — especially in today’s climate of high-stakes achievement testing,” wrote Robert Oliphant in an op-ed piece in Education News.

Dowd says universities are increasingly focused on keeping their rankings high in national “best colleges” lists, published in magazines like U.S. News & World Report.

“I think they’ve become more and more focused on building a freshman class. “They are very focused on their freshman persistence rates,” says Dowd, who will become an assistant professor of higher education at the USC in the fall.

The study says transfer students are most likely to be welcomed by colleges that have high freshman and sophomore departure rates and turn to transfer students for replenishment.

The report indicates that community college faculty and administrators need to help students navigate the transfer process, expose them to financial aid resources and advocate for reforms that will make the transfer to selective institutions easier. It adds that many community colleges do these things more by accident than by design.

— By Ibram Rogers

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