Create a free Diverse: Issues In Higher Education account to continue reading

Transfer Students Need Support from Both Two and Four Year Institutions


Two new reports and an online dashboard from the Community College Research Center (CCRC) at Teacher’s College, Columbia University, are part of an ambitious effort to tell the story of transfer students. These resources break down how many students are able to successfully transfer from a two-year institution to a four-year institution, with or without an associate degree or certificate, and how many of those transferred students are able to achieve a bachelor’s degree at the end of their journey.

Making two reports was a deliberate decision by the CCRC. One report was designed for community college leaders to read — the other was for four-year institutional leaders. Both of these institutional types have clear roles to play in improving transfer outcomes, said Dr. Tatiana Velasco Rodriguez, research associate at the CCRC.

Dr. Tatiana Velasco Rodriguez, research associate at the CCRC.Dr. Tatiana Velasco Rodriguez, research associate at the CCRC.“Four-year institutions have not really been engaged in the conversation [about transfers,]” said Velasco Rodriguez. “We really do think [this report] is a call to action, if we want to increase bachelor's degrees nationwide.”

It’s a call to action because, while some transfer statistics have improved, overall, progress has remained stagnant.

“No state is doing well in terms of getting their community college students to transfer and complete,” said Velasco Rodriguez. “Not only are outcomes low, but they have been low for a while.”

This newest study focuses on the enrollment data available for the community college cohort entering in 2015, which allowed for six years to complete their journey toward a bachelor’s degree. In this cohort, only 16% earned a bachelor’s degree — that’s just two percentage points higher than the previous cohort studied, which entered college in 2007.

Just under one-third of students who begin at community college make the successful transfer to a four-year institution, and of those, only 48% earn a bachelor’s degree in six years. The numbers are even starker for students who are Black, Latinx, male, 25 years and older, or low-income.

Some states have seen improvements in their transfer students, and the reason why is clear, said Velasco Rodriguez.

“The key ingredient for a state to do better is to have statewide transfer systems in place,” said Velasco Rodriguez.

Some community colleges and four-year institutions have singular partnerships with each other called matriculation agreements, which guarantee that classes taken in the two-year program will align with courses in the four-year program, allowing students to seamlessly enter their four-year institutions as juniors.

But those individual agreements have also created silos, said Velasco Rodriguez, which makes understanding the transfer process more complicated for students and faculty alike. That’s why statewide transfer programs have a better track record of success.

“Statewide [transfer] set up institutions and students in those states to be able to figure out the pathway to transfer and complete their bachelor degree. That is, to me, the most critical ingredient at this point,” said Velasco Rodriguez.

Dr. Ángel de Jesus González, assistant professor of higher education administration and leadership at Fresno State.Dr. Ángel de Jesus González, assistant professor of higher education administration and leadership at Fresno State.Once students arrive at their new institution, they may find it difficult to adjust to the new setting. One reason for that is the disappearance of the wraparound supports and counseling they received at their community college, tools that effectively serve the diverse needs of community college students, many of whom are low-income, working, parenting, or marginalized students, said Dr. Ángel de Jesus González, assistant professor of higher education administration and leadership at Fresno State.

“Often, our community colleges support students in a case-study model, in a social work context," said González. "They have people from SNAP benefits or food stamps, assisted financial support housed within community colleges. They have workforce development partnerships within the community. The different services they have are attuned to knowing the students they serve. Traditional four-year institutions still rely on the traditional student model.”

Four-year institutions, said González, need to be more aware of the needs of their transfer students and find more dedicated ways to communicate with and support them as they transition into an entirely different system.

It's critically important for four-year institutions to support these transfer students for another reason: diversity, said Velasco Rodriguez.

“In a context where ensuring diversity among applicants and admitted students is restrained given recent rulings, community college students are a source, not only of diversity, but of very competitive students, who would be much more likely to complete their degrees, had they the minimum support they need to guarantee that,” said Velasco Rodriguez.

Velasco Rodriguez and González agreed that addressing the challenges that confront transfer students is imperative to the greater economic success of both the students and the nation.

“We need to do everything we can to ensure we’re creating clear pathways for their success and supporting them at the send-off and at the receiving end of the experience,” said González. “We need to be really intentional in how we bridge that handoff, considering the experience these students hold — not just identities, but that they have certain needs and resources that must be filtered to them to ensure their success.”

Liann Herder can be reached at [email protected].

A New Track: Fostering Diversity and Equity in Athletics
American sport has always served as a platform for resistance and has been measured and critiqued by how it responds in critical moments of racial and social crises.
Read More
A New Track: Fostering Diversity and Equity in Athletics